The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is a Highly Creative, Extraordinarily Elegant and Utterly Enchanting Exploration into the Genius of the Master

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is a Highly Creative, Extraordinarily Elegant and Utterly Enchanting Exploration into the Genius of the Master

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Klein Theatre
Jordan Wright
October 7, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Christopher Donahue and Kasey Foster (Photo/Scott Suchman)

In an homage to the genius of da Vinci, Writer/Director Mary Zimmerman brings us into the mind of the master through his observations. Presented in magical realism, she interweaves his observations on the science of the universe in extraordinarily elegant fashion, casting actors accomplished in the art of kinetic motion and physical expression through mime, gesture, and speech. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is an elegant exploration into da Vinci’s thought-provoking revelations. “Instants are the boundaries of time,” Leonardo explains.

Da Vinci’s musings and experiments were far from pedestrian. He studied and analyzed everything from vanishing perspective to the dynamics of motion in order to achieve mathematical perfection through his painting. With his concept of the “18 positions of man” he devised modes of thinking to explain how the physical body should be portrayed on canvas through the “harmony of proportion”. “The body is a machine,” he concluded.

Andrea San Miguel and Wai Yim (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Acrobatic Consultant Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi along with Movement Consultant Tracy Walsh present these complicated intellectual concepts in lyrically and quite often humorously choreographed vignettes designed to express da Vinci’s logic and conclusions as he strived to explain all earthly life.

As beautifully depicted as these complex ideations are, the spirit of the writer’s musings is the always the focus as expressed by an exceptional cast practiced in balletic movement and speech. It is sensuous, stunning and intellectually stimulating. There is nothing superfluous in its examination of the mind of the artist/inventor as he ponders the flight of a bird. “A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law.” He examined the dynamics of the folds of curtains with his theory on drapery as much as he did that of the complexities of nature.

The cast is credited with being all “Leonardos”. They are Adeoye, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel, and Wai Yim. The harmony and grace of their physical interactions are utterly mesmerizing.

Wai Yim, Adeoye, Louise Lamson, and Andrea San Miguel (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Scenic Design by Scott Bradley who imagines Leonardo’s life as walls of wooden file drawers from which are pulled the many props used in the production; Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld whose clever interpretation gifts us with both athletic wear and Italian Renaissance period apparel; Lighting Designer T. G. Gerckens; Sound Design and Original Music by Michael Bodeen; Original Music by Miriam Sturm.

Wai Yim, Kasey Foster, and John Gregorio (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Highly creative, extraordinarily elegant and utterly enchanting, I would give it five stars (if I gave out stars, which as you know I do not).

Highly recommended.

Through October 29th at the Klein Theatre 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

 

 

Our Town

Our Town

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
May 28, 2022
Special to The Zebra

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a production of Thornton Wilder’s American classic, Our Town. Chances are it was a high school production.  Maybe you could say the same. I’ll even venture to guess either you’ve been in this play or seen someone you know perform it. Written in 1938 and set at the turn of the 20th C in a small town in New Hampshire, Wilder draws on his New England roots to embrace the ordinariness of diurnal family life in Grover’s Corners. The zeitgeist captures the essence of the American family unit reminiscent of the homogenized 1950’s – think Norman Rockwell. Kids go to school, the milkman delivers, newspapers arrive by a boy on his bike and the whole family eats dinner together every night. To present this drama, Director Alan Paul employs a local and very diverse cast, a departure from casting big name, out-of-town actors. Lately, there’s been a demand for theaters to use locals in the cast and crew, and some directors have risen to the challenge. As Paul said on opening night, “Making theater now is kind of like a radical act.” And, I’d suggest, a gamble.

Local actors Holly Twyford, Natascia Diaz, Felicia Curry, Jake Loewenthal, Lawrence Redmund, Craig Wallace, Sarah C. Marshall and Erin Posner are a known commodity to those of us who have seen them in a variety of roles at many local theaters. Collectively, they can boast numerous Helen Hayes Awards and their performances and characters are as finely tuned here as in any of their previous work. That said, I’m not at all sure audiences are ready to embrace an old chestnut like Our Town which leans heavily toward White nostalgia for suburban life in the early Edwardian era. Is this what post-COVID audiences are looking for from dramatic productions? It seems to me audiences are looking to explore more complex themes, chuckle over satire and/or tap into the struggles of different cultures with eyes wide open. We expect to be immersed in something deeper in a play. What is universal in Our Town is the message of hopes denied and dreams deferred, but it’s quite a stretch to take it from small-town, White America and expect it to apply to all other cultures.

Scenic Designer Wilson Chin presents us with a Quaker-simple, pared down set in the round and dots it with wooden chairs and tables to laser-focus on the text and the families and townsfolk interactions. As stripped down as it is, I still yearned to see the moon to drop down from the rafters during Emily and George’s teen love scene. It’s appeared in every production I’ve ever seen, and I missed its dramatic metaphor for the wider world we live in and the tender emotions of young love in bloom.

 

Only in the third act of this lengthy drama, when ghosts of her past haunt Emily during her voyage between death and the afterlife, do we glimpse the crux of the play. They advise her not to review her life nor attempt to make contact with any of the others – living or dead. They advise Emily to just give up – to cede to the inevitable. It is at this point that Paul dispenses with the miming of props and surprises us with a rising glass box featuring Mrs. Webb preparing pancakes and surrounded by props to wow us.

If you love these actors, as I do, you will want to see this production.  But, then again, you’ve probably seen it a hundred times.

With Holly Twyford as Stage Manager; Eric Hissom as Dr. Gibbs; Hudson Koonce as Joe Crowell/Si Crowell; Christopher Michael Richardson as Howie Newsome; Chinna Palmer as Emily Webb; Natascia Diaz as Mrs. Gibbs; Felicia Curry as Mrs. Webb; Jake Loewenthal as George Gibbs; Maisie Ann Posner as Rebecca Gibbs; Josh Decker as Sam Craig; Tommy Nelson as Wally Webb; Kimberly Schraf as Professor Willard; Craig Wallace as Mr. Webb; Lawrence Redmond as Simon Stimson; Sarah C. Marshall as Mrs. Soames; Elliot Dash as Constable Warren; Suzanne Richard as Joe Stoddard; Quinn M. Johnson, Ensemble; Summer Wei, Ensemble.

Costume Designer, Sarafina Bush; Sound Designer, Lighting Designer, Phillip Rosenberg; John Gromada; Composer, Michael John LaChiusa; Music Director, Jay Crowder.

Through June 11th at Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
March 29, 2022

Held in the recently rebranded The Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, Director and Obie Award-winner, Arin Arbus’s modernist vision of The Merchant of Venice is an exercise in portraying Shylock as a sympathetic character and his Venetian enemies as the vile racist snobs they are. Starring the brilliant actor, John Douglas Thompson, as Shylock, the play reveals a dreadful era when Venetian society frowned on Jews and other minorities but depended on their business acumen in times of financial woe. We cannot fail to see the relevance to our current state of the world.

Shakespeare purists with not be at home with the modern-day costumes, occasional American slang, and reworking of the characters. For me, it only proves Shakespeare’s relevance to our modern lives. Has anything changed since Jessica uttered, “Love is blind.”?  When the Princes of Morocco and of Aragon choose the casket they hope will win the fair Portia, they foolishly reveal their egos and cupidity. Even the Prince of Morocco, who admits, “All that glisters is not gold,” failed to heed that sage advice. When Portia rhymes “lead” with “dead” to as a hint to Bassanio, he ignores both the gold and the silver caskets to win her hand with the lowly lead casket.

How to handle Shylock in this play is the director’s challenge. He is both a sympathetic character and a vengeful man and that is made clear. Still, we are drawn into his dilemma of his daughter Jessica who betrays him, Antonio who takes advantage of him and all those others who degrade him. Lessons in morality and religion are not readily solved here. Ego and intransigence bring everyone down. Nevertheless, The Bard is always on top of morality and, of course, women dressing in drag to fool the men! In fine form, Arbus ends with Jessica reconnecting with her father as they recite the centuries-old Kol Nidre Hebrew prayer.

A simple stage set focusses on the unfolding drama, and we are treated to a memorably powerful portrayal of Shylock by Thompson counterbalanced by the engaging Isabel Arraiza as Portia. Shirine Babb, Portia’s backup bae, shines as Nerissa. Nate Miller brings much-needed comic relief as Lancelet and Alfredo Narciso brings the requisite evil as Antonio.

With Varin Ayala as Prince of Aragon; Jeff Biehl as Balthazar; Sanjit De Silva as Bassanio; Danaya Esperanza as Jessica; Yonatan Gebeyehu as Solanio; David Lee Huynh as Lorenzo; Maurice Jones as Prince of Morocco/Duke/Tubal; Nate Miller as Lancelet Gobbo; Haynes Thigpen as Gratiano; and Graham Winton as Saliero.

Lighting by Marcus Doshi; Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Original Music and Sound Design by Justin Ellington.

Through April 24th at The Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh.

Once Upon a One More Time

Once Upon a One More Time

Inspired by the Music Performed and Recorded by Britney Spears

Shakespeare Theatre Company

By: Jordan Wright

December 23, 2021

Justin Guarini (center) and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Going in I wondered if I would know any of the pop diva’s songs. It turns out a few were instantly recognizable, though you need not have them on your playlist to have heard them somewhere. This is the direction bio-musicals have been taking lately. Sourcing songs that are already tried and true. Add backstory and it’s on. For Once Upon a One More Time the writers chose “Pop Princess” Britney Spears who inspired this musical. No surprise she would get her due. With hundreds of millions of records sold worldwide, the show should bring in legions of her fans. So, far be it from me to critique a show that has already broken all box office records at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

There are shows I felt were not ready for their expected B’way debuts, which is where this is headed as soon as we can get past this damn pandemic. And I fear this could be one of them. Most, by the time they open in New York, have been trimmed down, beefed up, graced with better lighting, slick video projections and new sets. I hope this run will give the show the polish it needs before it hits the big time. Again, haters keep your claws drawn. It’s only my opinion. Stick with me. 

What I did find was a wonderful plot that echoes the “Me Too” movement – before little girls grow up and face misogyny, glass ceilings and male domination. It’s Keone and Mari Madrid’s creative direction and Jon Hartmere’s book that shoots down that clichéd fantasy and teaches girls about self-empowerment in a light-hearted and tuneful way. For decades, these fairy tales have been eagerly served up to little girls from the time they can sit still long enough to listen to a bedtime story. “Your prince will come and your dreams of being rescued by a tall, dark and handsome (and rich) man will be realized,” we tell them. This version destroys the myth that Prince Charming will come along and solve your lack of confidence, money and/or singlehood. Of course, these fairy tale girls are ravishing and conveniently, have a prince in their neighborhood. Oh, how we indoctrinate little girls into being subservient to men. This should dispel that myth in a heartbeat.

Here the wicked stepmother, who equates female empowerment with witchcraft, features prominently as do the snippy stepsisters, Belinda and Betany. Drawing on Betty Friedan’s feminist book, “The Feminine Mystique”, the Original Fairy Godmother alerts Cinderella to the power of activism and self-actualization and she encourages them to go on strike against the curmudgeonly Narrator. “If you wanna hang on to your slippers,” OFG advises Cinderella, “you gotta learn to put your foot down.” This is where I totally buy in.

Accordingly, Prince Charming has few redeeming social qualities. He is a womanizer who is charming, handsome and vapid but never has an actual name in any of the fairy tales. Think about that! There are silly jokes, sight gags, physical comedy and tons of dance numbers with some of Spears’ songs created with new lyrics designed to underpin the plot. Other songwriters like Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry have contributed material. What this all has to do with Britney’s real life, I have no idea, although I suppose you could connect it to her court case against her father – appointed her conservator years ago and recently defeated in court. That’s a sort of happy ending in and of itself.

The huge cast features Briga Heelan as Cinderella; Brooke Dillman as Original Fairy Godmother; Aisha Jackson as Snow White; Belinda Allyn as Belle; Justin Guarini as Prince Charming; Wonu Ogunfowora as Rapunzel; Morgan Weed as Princess and the Pea; Jennifer Florentino as Little Red Riding Hood; Selene Haro as Gretel; Amy Hillner Larsen as Goldilocks; Emily Skinner as Stepmother; MiMi Scardulla as Belinda; Tess Soltau as Betany; Raymond J. Lee as Clumsy/Prince Ebullient; Ryan Steele as Prince Erudite; Stephen Brower as Prince Suave; Stephen Scott Wormley as Prince Affable; Joshua Johnson as Prince Brawny; Kevin Trinio Perdido as Prince Mischievous; Michael McGrath as Narrator; Adrianna Weir or Mila Weir as Little Girl.

Creative Design and Choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid; Creative Consultant David Leveaux; Scenic Design by Anna Fleischle; Lighting by Sonono Nishikawa; Costume Design by Loren Elstein; and Sound Design by Andrew Keister.

Through January 2, 2022 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Brooke Dillman, Briga Heelan and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Cast of Once Upon A One More Time
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Timon of Athens ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
February 26, 2020 

You’d think by now Shakespeare’s plays would have taught society a few basic life lessons.  Be nice, don’t let your ego get the better of you, love madly, and don’t trust a drunk.  Take Timon of Athens – a wealthy aristocrat whose “friends” (and I use that word loosely) trade shallow compliments for lavish gifts and sumptuous dinners.  He who has the gold, rules and all that rot.  Amirite?  In this rarely produced play written with Thomas Middleton we can see that present-day sycophants have a lot in common with Jacobean sycophants.  What sets them apart is Timon’s plan to exact revenge on her coterie of parasitic predators.

Kathryn Hunter as Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman.

In Artistic Director Simon Godwin’s directorial debut at STC, we can see just how exciting and radical his approach will be.  His unusual choice of a female actor for the role of Timon and his mind-bending choices for the 2020-2021 season, bode well for STC audiences.  Kathryn Hunter (Timon) has made her reputation predominantly in England and so has Godwin as Associate Director of the National Theatre of London, the Royal Court Theatre and Bristol Old Vic.  It was at the Royal Court Theatre that he directed Hunter in Timon, and it seems they have come full circle for this American production.

Shirine Babb as Lucia and John Rothman as Flavius. Photo by Henry Grossman.

Hunter’s physically demanding performance is nothing less than extraordinary.  A tiny, wiry slip of a woman, she nonetheless displays all the power and ferocity of Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson when she takes to the woods to live hermit-like eschewing all social contacts and earthly comforts.  Discovering a treasure chest filled with gold, she devises a plan to outwit her greedy group of false friends.  You can’t help but be utterly gobsmacked by Hunter’s dramatic transformation from glamorous benefactor swathed in gold and jewels to monastic recluse clad in rags.

Dave Quay as Lucullus. Daniel Pearce as Sempronius, and Helen Cespedes as Flaminia. Photo by Henry Grossman.

Treating the play as a modern-day social construct, Godwin reinvents Timon’s steward, Alcibiades, imbuing him with empathy for Timon’s plight and using his sway to unmask and shame Timon’s friends for the phonies they are.  Another clever devise is using Apemantus as Timon’s reality check and positioning him around the theatre as a disembodied voice of wisdom and truth.  It’s a delicious stew of glamour and glitz, grit and gore, with indelible characters you will love to both hate and adore.  Congratulations to Godwin on his American directorial debut!

Zachary Fine, Yonatan Gebeyehu, and Julie Olgivies. Photo by Henry Grossman.

And high praise for Soutra Gilmour who designed both the costumes and the sets and Kristen Misthopoulos whose haunting voice on ancient Greek ballads lends a sense of place to the drama.

The Cast of Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman.

Highly recommended.

Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Christopher Shutt; Composer Michael Bruce; Choreographer Jonathan Goddard; Fight Director Lisa Kopitsky; Dramaturgy Jonathan Kalb and Drew Lichtenberg; Associate Director Allison Benko.

With Arnie Burton as Apemantus; Shirine Babb as Lucia; Helen Cespedes as Flaminia; Liam Craig as Demetrius; Zachary Fine as The Painter; Yonatan Gebeyehu as Poet; Adam Langdon as Lucilius; Elia Monte-Brown as Alcibiades; Julia Ogilvie as Jeweller; Daniel Pearce as Sempronius; Dave Quay as Lucullus; and John Rothman as Flavius.

Through March 22nd at the Michael R. Klein Theatre (formerly known as the Lansburgh Theatre) at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  For tickets and information visit  www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/events or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

The Cast of Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman.

 

The Woman in Black ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 9, 2019 

Attention all Brits and Anglophiles!  The festive tradition of vying for the evilest stories during the Christmas season is very much intact.  Based on Susan Hull’s 1983 neo-Gothic novel came the play, the second-longest running production in London’s West End.  It puts us in mind of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” featuring the spooky ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.  This tale of “truth being quite other”, as it’s described, attempts to be a story of haunting and fear.  And the premise that, “It must be told,” becomes the basis for delivering this tale.

Daniel Easton, left, and Robert Goodale star in “The Woman in Black” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo credit Tristram Kenton

In this atmospherically set two-hander, promoted as “spine-tingling”, the actors trade parts using different accents, subtle costume changes, and a few props, counting on the audience’s imagination to envision the characters’ motives and identities, rather than seeing it all played out.  Eerie sound effects – howling winds, thudding steps, screams, and things that go bump in the night – are the raison d’être for attempting to terrorize the audience.

In it, scenes toggle back and forth between an old man’s spooky story and a young solicitor (who also acts as acting coach to the old man) with the two men trading roles and adopting new ones at the drop of a bowler hat.  I must confess I found it rather sillier, and utterly predictable, than scary, though several audience members did squeal a few times.

Robert Goodale, left, and Daniel Easton in “The Woman in Black.” Photo credit Tristram Kenton

It’s easy to intuit the plot as well as the outcome when the described setting is the dark salt marshes surrounding an isolated house in England’s barren countryside.  Factor in the Nine Lives Bridge that sinks with the tides, further enisling the property and add in a fog-filled graveyard that features prominently as a location for a visiting ghost.  I’m not entirely certain there weren’t baying hounds, but there could have been, so seamlessly would they have figured into this well-acted but clichéd story.

Ah well, you can’t win them all – ghosts notwithstanding.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford.  Set and Costume Design by Michael Holt, Lighting Design by Kevin Sleep.  Starring Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Easton as The Actor.

Through December 22nd at the Michael R. Klein Theatre (formerly known as the Lansburgh Theatre) at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  For tickets and information visit  www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/events or call the box office at 202.547.1122.