Ford’s Theatre
Jordan Wright
March 30, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Photo/André Chung

In one of the most exciting new productions of the season, eight members of the Philadelphia Minton family are preparing a memorial supper to send their Gran’Me off in style. “Here We Go Making Preparations” sets the tone for the catered supper. The setting is Minton Place the restaurant that’s been in their family for 100 years carrying on the tradition of Southern soul food. Its current proprietor and granddaughter, Ruthie, has fallen on hard times and is struggling to keep the restaurant afloat.

Photo/André Chung

Grace is a rich tapestry of the African American experience with a wonderful score that grabs you by the collar and holds you in its Southern sway. Co-book Writer, Composer, Lyricist, Music Director and DC native, Nolan Williams, Jr., has crafted a small miracle – inviting us to experience African American culinary traditions while gently reminding us of the perils of gentrification in established Black neighborhoods. What I found along with the joyfulness and hilarity of this musical is the far deeper message that defines the heart and soul of Black culture. Some of the numbers are reminiscent of Sondheim’s pace and storytelling style, while others are flat-out soulful R&B or traditional New Orleans jazz. Some ballads feel like lullabies while others are downright funky. Haley’s roof-raising tune, “This Holy Bird”, a hilariously irreverent paean to the glories of the chicken wing, had the audience in stitches watching the family flap their arms to the “Funky Chicken”.

Meet the Mintons

Photo/André Chung

Matriarch Miss Minnie rules the roost with love, understanding and no-nonsense military precision. She embodies the roots of the family tree. In the tender ballad “Three Okra Seeds” Minnie tells the story of her ancestor who left slavery behind with only a scant few seeds in her hand – a tradition dating back to the early days of slavery.

Joshua, an adorable, hyper-energetic, hip-hop kid who plans to DJ the event, much to everyone’s dismay, video-tweets the family’s activities. “Yo fam!” he addresses his Twitter followers and squabbles fade away with his upbeat vibe.

Stylish Jacqui, “I’m not bougie. I’m Afro chic,” is the media-savvy fashion maven, the perfect counterpoint to Haley, who is miffed her name’s been left off the restaurant’s historic plaque.

Paul, the PhD nephew charged with coordinating the memorial program, schools the family in historic African American chefs who are painted on the set’s backdrop. And then there’s E.J., a finance guy, whose father kept him from the Mintons claiming they weren’t classy enough. “Dady’ Used to Say”, he croons realizing that distance kept him from their love.

Twenty-two numbers show off the cast’s crazy amazing vocal chops, but as anyone in the DMV knows, no one can be bested by the amazing Nova Y. Payton, who will rip your heart out with her killer, honeyed voice and extraordinary range. My fur stands on end every time I hear her sing and, as evidenced by the numerous standing ovations she received, so did everyone else’s.

Jarran Muse and Rayshun LaMarr. (Photo/André Chung)

This feel-good musical coupled with an extraordinary cast wrap us in their warmest embrace and we, the audience, return the spirit in kind with all the grace we can muster.

Starring Nova Y. Payton as Ruthie; Virginia Ann Woodruff as Miss Minnie; Rayshun LaMarr as Joshua; Arica Jackson as Haley; Raquel Jennings as Jacqui; David Hughey as Paul; Jarran Muse as E. J.; and Solomon Parker III as Lawrence.

Directed and Choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming; Co-Book by Nikkole Salter; Conducted by Paul Byssainthe, Jr. with Orchestrations by Joseph Joubert; Scenic Design by Jason Ardizzone-West; Costume Design by Dominique Fawn Hill; Lighting Design by Xavier Pierce.

Highly recommended!

Through May 14th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 347-4833.

Silent Sky ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 2, 2020

Mention the name Lauren Gunderson, and you’ll probably get an enthusiastic nod of recognition.  As the most produced playwright in America, she has been writing plays about real women whose achievements have been subordinated to those of men.  Think of the movie Hidden Figures as a recent example of women whose monumental accomplishments were overlooked, and overshadowed, by the men at NASA.

Laura C. Harris (center) with Emily Kester, Jonathan David Martin, Holly Twyford and Nora Achrati Photo by Scott Suchman.

Gunderson’s play Emilie – La Marquise du Chatelet, reviewed here two years ago and a recent world premiere of her play, Peter Pan and Wendy, here in DC, have more than endeared her to local audiences.

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In Silent Sky, Gunderson enlightens us with the ground-breaking theories of a young, female astronomer who, against all odds, made radical discoveries that shook every astronomer’s concept of the vastness of space.  Henrietta Swan Leavitt had a degree from Harvard in astronomy.  Yet when she was hired to work in this renowned observatory in the early 1900’s, she was not permitted to observe the galaxy through the Great Refractor telescope.  No woman could.  Instead, she, along with two other female computers called “Pickering’s harem” by the male department head, were tasked with looking at photographic plates to ascertain the position and classification of stars.  (Until the mid-20th century the word “computer” referred to a person who carried out calculations – long before computing machines were invented.)

Holly Twyford, Laura C. Harris and Nora Achrati – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Squirreled away in a tiny office and separated from the male astronomers, Leavitt alone achieved a system of mapping the Milky Way by relating the blinking of the stars to music and recognizing that pulsing stars have a pattern.  This at a time when Einstein’s theory of relativity had just been published.

Gunderson focuses on Henrietta and her feisty co-workers, Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, toiling away in obscurity.  It was a time when young women rarely pursued a career and still did not yet have the right to vote.  Her only sibling, Margaret, chooses marriage, children, and a life in the church, despairing as Henrietta delves deeper into her work far from home and to the exclusion of her family.

Laura C. Harris – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Wonderful nighttime skies filled with starlight and a bespoke period stage set, complete the picture and add to the powerful story of the women’s mutual support and the parallel thread of Henrietta’s burgeoning romance with Peter Shaw, who falls in love with her passion and intellect, and provides a lively background to this brilliant astronomer’s extraordinary life and eventual worldwide recognition.

Starring Laura C. Harris as Henrietta Leavitt; Nora Achrati as Annie Cannon; Holly Twyford as Williamina Fleming; Emily Kester as Margaret Leavitt; and Jonathan David Martin as Peter Shaw.

Jonathan David Martin and Laura C. Harris – Photo by Scott Suchman.

Directed by Seema Sueko with Scenic Design by Milagros Ponce de León; Costume Design by Ivania Stack; Lighting Design by Rui Rita; Sound Design and Original Music by André J. Pluess; Choreographed by Karma Camp; Hair and Makeup by Anne Nesmith.

Wonderful performances by a tight-knit cast.  Don’t miss it!

Through February 23rd at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202.347.4833.

August Wilson’s Fences ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 3, 2019

Hard on the heels of Arena Stage’s ongoing production of Jitney comes Fences, another August Wilson drama and the sixth play in Wilson’s ten-part series the American Century Cycle that chronicles 100 years of the African American experience.  (Jitney, Wilson’s first play in the series, was reviewed here earlier this week.)  It’s clear Wilson has further honed his vision to encapsulate pockets of Black culture with another deeply moving story reflecting both humor and pathos.  Fences depicts the struggles and complex interpersonal relations of the Maxsons, an American family living in a racist society.

Doug Brown, Jefferson A. Russell, Erika Rose and Craig Wallace – Photo by Scott Suchman.

In a family dominated by Troy Maxson, an emotionally detached father who blames his sons for his personal failures and cuckolds his devoted wife, each member is forced to carve out their own truth.  Both sons and wife Rose try to escape his unpredictable moods, but it’s his inability to express love that eventually takes its toll on everyone – including Troy, who lacks both education and basic human understanding.

Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

Troy’s fifteen-year incarceration for murder took away his promising baseball career in the Negro Leagues and he is still bitter.  Forfeiting his future, he takes a menial sanitation job with the city of Pittsburgh to provide for his family and becomes resentful when his son Cory is offered a football college scholarship. As a result, his jealousy and arrogance fracture their relationship. “I’m the boss around here,” he warns the boy, insisting he doesn’t have to like him and that his only responsibility is to provide for his son’s basic needs.  When Troy refuses to sign a permission slip allowing Cory to accept the college scholarship, Cory tells his father, “You just scared I’m gonna be better than you.”

Erika Rose, Doug Brown, Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

This is where I struggled to comprehend the sense of this father-son battle.  I wondered, if the father is so resentful of supporting his son, then why doesn’t he allow him to take the scholarship so he can be absolved of further financial responsibility?  How this could be?  As luck would have it, during intermission I had a discussion with an African American acquaintance who told me that he had grown up in a family with twelve children and Troy reminded him of his own father.  When I asked why that was, he told me his father was functionally illiterate like Troy and had no understanding of college.  Shockingly, his father believed it would be a place where his daughters would become prostitutes, and, as for the sons, he claimed their only choice was to learn a manual skill.  I thanked my friend for this insight and can only imagine that it reflects a time within a certain struggling African American community who believed they shouldn’t overstep their bounds.  The play is set in 1957 and opportunities were slow in coming.

Craig Wallace – Photo credit Scott Suchman

Rose is Troy’s long-suffering wife who cleans and cooks and stands by her man despite his drinking and womanizing.  Erika Rose (the actress shares the character’s name) proves to be the perfect counterpart to Craig Wallace’s Troy Maxson, not only in sheer emotionality, but also in fiery intensity.  And Doug Brown as Jim Bono, Troy’s former prison mate and best friend, grants us a character who tempers Troy’s hardheadedness with humor and country wit.

Erika Rose, Janiyah Lucas and Justin Weaks in the Ford’s Theatre production of August Wilson’s “Fences,. Photo by Scott Suchman

Eventually, Troy comes to need Rose in ways he never imagined, and they develop a marital détente.  It is at this point in their already strained relationship that Troy begins to find the words to describe his loneliness and fears of inadequacy, and finally comes to terms with the error of his ways. Troy’s tragedy is lack of compassion, the inability to see outside of himself, and jealousy of his own son’s success.  The result is that it eats him alive and, as we all know, a wooden fence can’t keep out death or the devil.

Highly recommended for a superb cast and Timothy Douglas’ splendid direction.

Additional cast members: KenYatta Rogers as Lyons Maxson, Jefferson A. Russell as Gabriel Maxson, Justin Weaks as Cory Maxson and Janiyah Lucas/Mecca Rogers as Raynell Maxson.

Scenic Design by Lauren Helpern, Costume Design by Helen Huang, Lighting Design by Andrew R. Cissna, Hair and Makeup by Danna Rosedahl, and Sound Design by Nick Hernandez.

Through October 27th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888.616.0270 or visit


Twelve Angry Men ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 24, 2019 

(L-R) Eric Hissom (Juror One), Michael Russotto (Juror Three) and Erik King (Juror Eight). Photo by Scott Suchman.

Playwright Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men had its initial stage debut in 1955.  Better known as a writer for television (The Defenders, The Twilight Zone), Rose was inspired to write this, the best known of his plays, after serving as a juror on a murder trial.  “It was such an impressive, solemn setting in a great big wood-paneled courtroom, with a silver-haired judge, it knocked me out.  I was overwhelmed.  I was on a jury for a manslaughter case, and we got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room.  I was writing one-hour dramas for Studio One in Hollywood, and I thought, ‘Wow, what a setting for a drama!’”

(R- L): Lawrence Redmond (Juror Seven) and Bueka Uwemedimo (Juror Eleven) with (background) Eric Hissom (Juror One), Bru Ajueyitsi (Juror Five), Sean Maurice Lynch (Juror Two) and Michael Russotto (Juror Three) Photo by Scott Suchman

In mid-century America generalizations about race and juries’ penchant for assumed guilt were being re-examined.  Guilty verdicts for people of color revealed a predisposition to convict, regardless of whether the defendant was innocent or guilty.  Countless TV dramas and several films have been made of Rose’s drama, and it is said that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor chose to pursue her law degree after seeing Sidney Lumet’s 1957 movie of it.  Twelve Angry Men will never go out of date.  Its relevance is undeniable.  We see injustice in courtrooms every day all over the world.

Erik King (Juror Eight, standing) and the cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of Twelve Angry Men. Photo by Scott Suchman

Though the universal search for justice and truth is a primary tenet in civilized societies, we see its failures and foibles on a daily basis.  While some defendants are found guilty, others are found innocent of the same crimes, even if based on a similar series of facts.  We ask ourselves, ‘If the defendant was white would the verdict have been different?’  If he or she had more skilled representation, would they have gotten off.  The Innocence Project tells us that prejudice and the convictions of those who are poorly represented, is far too often the case.

Cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of Twelve Angry Men. Photo by Scott Suchman.

The play’s characters are listed by number – First Juror/Foreman through twelve – and set in the deliberating room where the personalities and backgrounds of each man becomes relevant.  In a particularly cruel generalization, one juror declares, “Human life doesn’t mean as much to them.”  Director Sheldon Epps’ deliberate choice to cast six black and six white actors as jurors gives us license to look for signs of prejudice in both camps.  We do, and there it is.  We never meet the orphaned teen or his father, whom he is accused of killing, instead we hear fear-mongering and an ever-shifting set of supposedly incontrovertible facts which become suggestions, or worse, suppositions, based on the prejudices of each juror.  During their deliberations, certainties become doubts as clues prove to be mere red herrings and the testimony of sure-fire witnesses proves faulty.

Highly recommended.  A cast of exceptional veteran actors keeps the tension palpable.

With Eric Hissom as First Juror/Foreman; Sean-Maurice Lynch as Second Juror; Michael Russotto as Third Juror; Christopher Bloch as Fourth Juror; Bru Ajueyitsi as Fifth Juror; Jason B. McIntosh as Sixth Juror; Lawrence Redmond as Seventh Juror; Erik King as Eighth Juror; Craig Wallace as Ninth Juror; Elan Zafir as Tenth Juror; Bueka Uwemedimo as Eleventh Juror; and Brandon McCoy as Twelfth Juror.

Scenic Design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, Costume Design by Wade Laboissonniere, Lighting Design by Dan Covey and Sound Design by John Gromada.

Through February 17th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888 616.0270 or visit

Born Yesterday ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
September 27, 2018

“The whole damn history of the world is the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish,” pronounces Ed Devery, Harry Brock’s outlier attorney.  It was this line from Born Yesterday that put playwright Garson Kanin square in the sights of Senator Joe McCarthy during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.  Described by the Roman Catholic Press as “Marxist satire’,  Kanin wrote it as a frothy comedy with a powerful message.  One as relevant today as it was 68 years ago.

Cody Nickell (as Paul Verrall), Kimberly Gilbert (as Billie Dawn) and Edward Gero (as Harry Brock). Photo by Carol Rosegg

Under the astute direction of Aaron Posner, Kanin’s witty comedy enjoyed a sensational and timely revival last night.  How could it miss with Edward Gero in the leading role as Harry Brock, the crooked, vote-buying, junkyard magnate?  When I wondered how Gero could segué so seamlessly from his recent award-winning role as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in The Originalistto a low-life conman from the other side of the law, he reminded me, “They are both from New Jersey.”  Ah well, so are the best tomatoes.  Both plays are set in Washington, DC with plenty of references to bribery and corruption, making it delightfully engaging for Beltway insiders.

Well-drawn characters are what give this comedy its undeniable spark.  There’s Brock’s cousin, Eddie (Evan Casey) who is Ed Norton to Brock’s Jackie Gleason (if you remember that slapstick duo); Billie Dawn (Kimberly Gilbert), Brock’s gal, the intellectually-challenged ex-chorus girl who wises up with the help of Paul Verrall (Cody Nickell) the Reporter, Billie’s mentor and savior; and Ed Devery (Eric Hissom), Brock’s alcoholic lawyer and enforcer.  Senator Norval Hedges (Todd Scofield) is Brock’s patsy.

Todd Scofield (as Senator Norval Hedges), Naomi Jacobson (as Mrs. Hedges) and Edward Gero (as Harry Brock) . Photo by Carol Rosegg

Gero does a formidable job of being the tough guy, strong arming and buying his way to the top, but it’s Gilbert’s lightness and seamless twist from dumb blonde to smart cookie that command the most attention. The minions pinballing in and out of Brock’s orbit provide additional humor to this lively farce.

Casting Director, Patrick Pearson, has done a bang-up job of pairing of Gero with Gilbert who are hilarious in a gin game scene that has Billie squealing with delight as she picks up all Harry’s discards, beating him handily and showing she’s pretty good at keeping score, a fast learner, and even better at pegging Harry for setting her up. 

Edward Gero (as Harry Brock) and Cody Nickell (as Paul Verrall) . Photo by Carol Rosegg

Recommended for Beltway newshounds looking for an evening of political comic redemption.

With Matt Dewberry as A Bellhop/A Barber; Naomi Jacobsen as Mrs. Hedges/Helen/A Manicurist; and Jamie Smithson as The Assistant Manager/A Bootblack/ A Waiter.

Spectacular Set Design of a two-story, swank hotel suite by Daniel Lee Conway; Costume Design by Kelsey Hunt, Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler; Sound Design and Original Music by John Gromada.

The cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday,”
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Through October 21st at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888 616.0270 or visit

Jefferson’s Garden ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
ebruary 1, 2018 

It’s a curious thing that American Playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker is more famous in Great Britain where she is the Resident Writer at the Royal Court Theatre and has lately been awarded a commission to write a new play for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  That’s heady stuff.

Christopher Dinolfo as Christan and Felica Curry as Susannah. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In Jefferson’s Garden, part of the exciting Women’s Voices Theater Festival,  Wertenbaker’s focus is on the American Revolution and how we got there, revealing the contradictions between our founding father’s ideals and both the realities and precarious nature of freedom.  It reminds us the it was considered either a revolution or an insurgency depending on who was doing the talking.

Director Nataki Garrett opens the drama on a boat sailing from England to America, where Carl (Michael Halling), a bourgeois German aristocrat, meets a Quaker family who promise to take him to their farm if he learns practical skills.  He does.  Though the family are pacifists, their young son Christian (Christopher Dinolfo) defies his family to go to war, ultimately breaking a promise to his sister Louisa (Maggie Wilder) that he will never fight.

The Company of Timberlake Wertenbaker. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Nine actors, in different roles through dizzying wardrobe changes, introduce us to many of the founding fathers – Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, Ben Franklin, George Washington – as well as the soldiers affected by the cost of war on their lives and loved ones.  The character of the freed slave Susannah (Felicia Curry) and her love story with a white man lend insight into the struggles both sides faced.

It is not until Act Two, that we come to Jefferson’s noted Monticello garden where the men have come to hash out the Bill of Rights and express their considered opinions.  There under a gazebo, we meet bossy Southern belle, Nelly Rose, played hilariously to the hilt by Kimberly Gilbert.

It is a high gear everything-but-the-kitchen-sink telling of the American Revolution – at times funny, at others emotional or flat-out educational.  Who knew there were four million Americans and only 160,000 Brits at the time of the revolution?  And who knew the King offered freedom to slaves who fought for England?  Okay, you did.  Seems I’d better brush up on my American history!Thoroughly enjoyable.

Additional cast members – Christopher Bloch, Thomas Keegan, Michael Kevin Darnall and Kathryn Tkel.

Through February 8th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 888 616-0270 or visit online.

For more info on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival visit online.