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King Lear Smashes All STC Sales Records

King Lear Smashes All STC Sales Records

King Lear
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
March 5, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Patrick Page in King Lear (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

As a cautionary tale King Lear offers up lessons so dark, so full of evil premonition and so dangerously dire, one might be loath to examine its foreshadowing against the present day. That it reveals the fates and foibles of the human condition is what Shakespeare serves up for us to ponder. And ponder we do on the treachery, the perfidy and the murderous jealousy of this dynasty spelled out in spades.

Director Simon Godwin wrangles this beast of a play into a modern-day crime drama with all the attendant twists and turns – taking us on a grizzly journey into the inner workings of one uber-twisted royal family. I won’t bother describing the plot. Go online for that. What I want you to know and feel is the way Godwin has approached it.

Craig Wallace, Julian Elijah Martinez, and Bekah Zornosa (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

It struck me as a cross between The Real Housewives of the British Court (the king’s two shrewish daughters Regan and Goneril) and Hitchcockian film noir. Set in an airplane hangar with his soldiers garbed in camouflage, Lear delivers his edicts describing the division of his lands to his daughters. The daughters must pledge their undying love to their father to secure the best lands. As an early Christmastime entertainment originally written for King James I, it seems it wasn’t meant to be a family-friendly amusement, but more of a warning – as in “Watch your back, your Majesty.”

Is it shocking? Yes! within a dire series of political circumstances that seem to correlate with certain dynasties current states of affairs. In real life we can’t peek behind the curtain of political deception, but here we can witness betrayal after betrayal play out amongst the characters – all of whom feel cheated of their rightful due. Fair warning. There will be blood!

Matthew J. Harris, Michael Milligan, Patrick Page, and Shirine Babb (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

Costume Designer, Emily Rebholz, outfits Goneril and Regan in flashy kelly green or black leather and fur replete with 80’s gold chains and spike heels while true blue Cordelia is garbed in more subtle pastels. For a headpiece, The Fool wears what appears to be a gaudy hand-knitted cockscomb, while soldiers sport present-day military uniforms. Set Designer Daniel Soule conceives the wreckage of an old airplane as the scene for Lear’s shelter from the storm and a modern-day hospital for his death scene. Note the pizza boxes tossed after a wild party at Goneril’s house. Sound Designer Christopher Shutt provides the thunderous backdrops for the battle scenes with sounds of airplanes strafing the ground, radar bleeps, and bombs blasting. It’s quite effective.

You may never see a Lear as marvelously mad and subtly complex as Patrick Page’s portrayal of the mad king. How we loved his performances in Broadway’s Hadestown and STC’s Hamlet, Othello (Helen Hayes Award), Macbeth and The Tempest. Beloved local actor Craig Wallace is thrilling in the role of Gloucester. A graduate of Howard University, Wallace has played dozens of lead roles in area theaters.

Highly recommended.

Lily Santiago, Stephanie Jean Lane, and Rosa Gilmore (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

With Rosa Gilmore as Goneril; Stephanie Jean Lane as Regan; Matthew J. Harris as Edgar; Julian Elijah Martinez as Edmund; Yao Dogbe as Cornwall; Michael Milligan as Fool; Jake Loewenthal as Albany; Ryan Neely as Roland; Lily Santiago as Cordelia; Raven Lorraine as Ursula; Shirine Babb as Kent; Terrence Fleming as Burgundy/Curran/French Soldier; Todd Scofield as Oswald; Hunter Ringsmith as France/Dennis; Bekah Zornosa as Constance/Doctor.

Assistant Director, Kate Pitt, Choreography by Jonathan Goddard; Lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk-Yew; Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne; Composer, Michael Bruce.

Through April 16th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company Klein Theatre, 450 Seventh Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 547-1122.

A Frothy Comedy Delights at The Little Theatre

A Frothy Comedy Delights at The Little Theatre

Lettice and Lovage
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
February 28, 2023
Special to The Zebra 

Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet: Rachael Hubbard as Lottie Schoen (Photo/Matt Liptak)

In this delectable comedy we find ourselves drawn to Lettice Douffet (Patricia Nicklin), an erudite lady with a penchant for the dramatic. As docent of Fustian House, a historic manor in Wiltshire, England, her tours are peppered with bland tales of its former denizens. Noticing the distracted tourists, she begins to enhance her talks with wildly invented fables designed to titillate. The tourists are delighted and far more attentive as she performs her zany pantomimes which include stories of the occupants making dinners of hedgehogs and rabbits. Unfortunately, the poor dear runs up against some touring scholars who challenge her “facts”. That’s when we witness her uncanny ability to dodge her way out of a pickle.

Soon Lotte Schoen (Rachael Hubbard), the Director of the Preservation Trust and a stickler for facts, calls her into her office to confront her shenanigans. Lettice eloquently holds her own, defending her histrionics by explaining she comes from a theater family where, “enlarge, enliven and enlighten” is her mother’s watchword. (If prevaricating could be blamed on the theater, courtrooms would be a circus. Hmmm… I think there’s a TV show for that.) Notwithstanding her mounting a strong case for performance art, Lotte gives her the axe and Lettice goes off roundly defeated.

Tourists in the castle: Tegan Cohen, Nicole Gray, Nicole Lamberson, Colin Davies, James Blacker (Photo/Matt Liptak)

After a time, Lotte pays a visit to Lettice’s lowly Earls Court digs and offers to help by suggesting a job on a tour boat she thinks would suit her. They bond over ageism in the workplace and Lettice regales Lotte over some serious drinking. They soon become fast friends with a penchant for reenacting historic executions. Yes, you read that right.

To say that Nicklin inhabits her character with zeal would be an understatement. She had the audience well in hand by taking total command of the stage. Hubbard proved to be up to the challenge with an equally memorable performance. The whole dang thing is spot on hilarious.

Colin Davies as Mr. Bardolph; Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Look for Tegan Cohen who shows off her comedy chops as Lotte’s secretary and Colin Davies who makes a brief but effective appearance as Mr. Bardolph, the attorney hired to defend the women against a murder charge. Did I forget to mention murder?

Director Juli Tarabek Blacker has Peter Shaffer’s super witty script to work with and makes the most of its snappy pacing and eye-rolling bon mots.

Other cast members include Nicole “Nicki” Gray, Nicole Lamberson and James Blacker.

Produced by sheri ratick stroud and Griffin Voltmann with Set Design by Julie Fischer, Lighting by JK Lighting Design, Costume Design by Joan Lawrence, Sound Design by Manuel Medina.

Light, lively and tons of fun!

Through March 18th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 683-0496.

A Poignant, Gritty and Powerful New Play at Arena Stage

A Poignant, Gritty and Powerful New Play at Arena Stage

The High Ground
Arena Stage
Jordan Wright
February 24, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Nehassaiu deGannes (Victoria/Vicky/Vee/The Woman in Black) and Phillip James Brannon (Soldier) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

In recognition of America’s celebration of Black History Month, many area theaters have mounted plays which tell stories drawn from the American Black experience. At Arena Stage’s ongoing commitment of producing newly commissioned American “Power Plays” engages audiences by broadening their knowledge of American history by expressing the very human side of some of our country’s seminal events. To date Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith has produced eight commissioned plays with 17 more to come, each story bearing witness to history and its effect on the human heart. The High Ground is the ninth in this great American experiment.

Written by award-winning playwright, Nathan Alan Davis, the play draws us in by expressing both tenderness and tragedy following the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre in the Spring of 1921. Known as the single worst incident of racial violence in American history, in two days it caused the destruction of what was known as Black Wall Street, saw 300 innocent demonstrators shot dead, burned hospitals, schools and churches, looted houses and displaced up to 10,000 Black Americans from their community of Greenwood. Falsely called a riot by local policemen who brought in heavy armor, machine guns and helicopters, the event gripped the entire nation for two days. When the dust cleared, it turned into a land grab for local Whites.

Nehassaiu deGannes and Phillip James Brannon (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Davis tells this vivid story through a young Black man (Phillip James Brannon) who was shot and killed during the onslaught and returns in spirit to find his community gone. In its place stands Oklahoma State University. The setting is the university’s tower, high upon Standpipe Hill. “Soldier”, as he calls his spirit self, shows signs of severe PTSD. He is reliving the horrific events of the massacre and searching for his wife, played by Nehassaiu deGannes in all the female roles. She first appears to him as Victoria, a former neighbor and student who begs him to leave and accompany her to a funeral; next as Vicky, a policewoman who tries to save his life from an approaching posse of armed police; and lastly as his wife Vee who pleads with him to abandon the hill and leave with her. Robed in a silken white gown, Vee, like the Greek prophetess Cassandra, bears witness to the tragedy and its aftermath, warning of its power to destroy future generations, yet knowing her prophesy will go unheeded.

Nehassaiu deGannes and Phillip James Brannon (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Brannon and deGannes are more than up for the task in this two-hander which has many moving parts and a wealth of deeply emotional dialogue. In transitioning between three separate roles – as college student, policewoman and wife – deGannes displays an impressive ability to inhabit three distinctly different characters and showcase her range. For Brannon, maintaining the combative persona of the anxiety-plagued soldier still capable of love, it is a brilliant achievement.

Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian stages the play with great sensitivity leaning into the pathos and tension created between the characters, the unfolding tragedy and the legacy such violence leaves in its wake.

Highly recommended.

Set Design by Paige Hathaway; Costume Design by Sarita Fellows; Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani; Original Music and Sound Design by Nathan Leigh; Dramaturgs Otis Ramsey-Zöe and Jocelyn Clarke.

Through April 2nd at Arena Stage in the Kogod Cradle, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 488-3300.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard Glows with Hollywood Glamour Starring Broadway Royalty Stephanie J. Block

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard Glows with Hollywood Glamour Starring Broadway Royalty Stephanie J. Block

Sunset Boulevard
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 4, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Derek Klena and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage productions differ from a Broadway production in that the orchestra here is smack dab on stage with the performers who are major Broadway luminaries. These performances rely neither on complex set designs nor a wealth of props (although creamy white velvet fainting couches feature prominently here) but on the talents of the performers, the plot, the music, the powerful strains of the full Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and the thrill of these hot-ticket shows. That said, this short run features no less a luminary than Stephanie J. Block in the lead role of the glamourous Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s multi-Tony winning Sunset Boulevard. Ms. Block is so beloved a performer that a standing ovation with accompanying hoots and whistles follows her every number.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot it’s set in Hollywood in the 1940’s and based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film noir classic starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Here a backdrop of black & white movie stills and old clips sets the mood of the period and a pair of grand staircases leading up to the rafters fill opposite sides of the stage.

Stephanie J Block and Company

The big draw is Stephanie Block who won her most recent Tony Award for her role in The Cher Show for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical”. Block has garnered innumerable awards and the playbill features a bio as long as my arm. Audiences show their adoration with standing O’s after each number she belts out with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence. Block could sing the phone book, if we still had them, and fans would rush to witness it. Here she is bracketed by other leading B’way stars and the whole equals the sum of its supporting actors’ parts. What you can expect to hear is stunning voices with a notable Webber score.

Sunset Boulevard is a sordid story of ageism, sexism and raw power in Hollywood – former leading ladies are put out to pasture; young, movie star-handsome, aspiring actors who long to hang out with the Hollywood elite to further their careers and fill their pockets; and the cruelty of studio heads wielding excessive power over their stable of impressionable actors. Is it relevant? You betcha. Refer to the recent Harvey Weinstein incident and the #MeToo movement for background.

Auli’i Cravalho and Derek Klena (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Norma is kept in the dark by her butler, Max Von Mayerling (Nathan Gunn) who fake-writes her fan mail and encourages her desire to play Salome in a script she has written and that her boytoy, Joe Gillis (Derek Klena), is revising while being held hostage in her Beverly Hills mansion. Joe plays her game, reluctantly at first, “I’m touched by her folly.”, later fulfilling her every desire while enjoying the perks of the luxe life. His alternate love story is his business relationship with Betty Schaefer (Aul‘i Cravalho), a wannabe screenwriter who eventually becomes his main squeeze. Just so you know, if you didn’t already, there is a happy ending.

Also starring Paul Schoeffler as Cecil B. DeMille; Michael Maliakel as Artie Green; Kevin Pariseau as Sheldrake; Tyley Ross as Manfred; and Lance Roberts as Sammy. A fifteen-person ensemble gifts us with even more dancing and singing.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton; Directed by Jeffrey Finn; Scenic and Production Design by Paul Tate dePoo III, Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Cory Pattak; Music Direction by Ben Cohn; Choreography by Emily Maltby.

Derek Klena and Michael Maliakel

Through February 8th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

For Block fans: Block will be starring in Kennedy Center’s upcoming Into the Woods. The show runs from February 23rd through the 28th. Check the website for dates and times.

Boston Marriage is a Snappy, Salty Victorian Comedy by David Mamet at Dominion Stage

Boston Marriage is a Snappy, Salty Victorian Comedy by David Mamet at Dominion Stage

Boston Marriage
Dominion Stage
Jordan Wright
February 3, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Heather Plank as Claire, Elizabeth Keith as Anna, Nancy Somers as Catherine (Photo/Matthew Randall)

For those of you unfamiliar with Dominion Stage, the longest-running community theater in the DMV, it is located on the fringes of National Landing in Fairlington. A little more than three years ago the company merged with Port City Playhouse, another local community theater. Both companies are proud of their mix of contemporary, traditional, diverse and historically under-represented stories to reflect local community interests. Their motto is “Anything but Predictable” and that’s exactly what their audiences have come to expect.

With that in mind I returned after a long absence to see their current production of Boston Marriage by prolific author and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, David Mamet, best known for Glengarry Glen Ross, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Speed-the-Plow and a wealth of other award-winning plays and screenplays.

Quoting from the program, ‘A Boston Marriage’ was, historically, the co-habitation of two wealthy women, independent of financial support from a man. The term is said to have been in use in New England in the late 19th and early 20th century. Some of these relationships were romantic in nature and might now be considered a lesbian relationship; others were not. (Source: Wikipedia)

Anna (Elizabeth Keith) is mistress to a married man who provides her with everything she needs to live in grand style. When her best friend Claire (Heather Plank) comes to visit, the two women have opposing interests in mind. Claire wants Anna to set up a liaison in her home and Anna is understandably jealous of Claire seeing another woman. Convincing Anna to go along with it takes nearly the entire first act. Although Claire disapproves of Anna’s cushy arrangement with her sponsor, she is eager to avail herself of its perks. “Men! What can we do with them?” she asks. “One thing!” declares Anna.

Nancy Somers as Catherine, Elizabeth Keith as Anna (Photo/Matthew Randall)

This clever three-hander combines the intricacies of Victorian Era etiquette with the salty dialogue of plundering pirates. It is absolutely, eyebrow-raising hilarious to watch these two begowned and bejeweled ladies intellectually argue the merits or worthlessness of Victorian social structure and its stringent mores while flinging around curse words more appropriate to an Army barracks. In a particularly funny bit, an exercise in sensuous pie-making by Claire prompts Anna to say, “Claire! You pagan slut!” – the insults here are as frequent as they are acerbic.

Catherine, played by Nancy Somers who recalls the great Carol Burnett’s iconic role as a maid, is Anna’s housekeeper – a neurotic Scotswoman whose country ways are anathema to the ladies’ indelicate ears. Between the three women you’ll hear some of the snappiest, silliest, and high-minded repartee heard on a stage. It’s like a tennis match with insults in lieu of balls. Director Matthew Randall keeps the pace on rapid dial until you feel yourself in free-fall and Charles Dragonette’s set design is so picture perfect I wanted to leap out of my chair and snatch a few scones from the tea service or pour myself a sherry from the breakfront just to keep up with the velocity of verbiage. I loved this fine cast whose characters are well-developed and whose comedic timing is rapid-fire.

Heather Plank as Claire, Elizabeth Keith as Anna (Photo/Matthew Randall)

Although the action takes place in a single day (no wonder it’s on fast-forward!), you’ll find yourself deep in the middle of planning a séance, enjoying the fashions and mores of the period, and plotting a tryst as thick as clotted cream. Heaven forfend!

Produced by Rachel Alberts with Lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley; Sound Design by Jon Roberts; Hair and Makeup Design by Rebecca Harris; Set Design by Charles Dragonette with assistants David Hyman and Alan Wray. Period costumes provided by The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Through February 11th at Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information on performance dates visit 

Ride the Cyclone Is a Dizzying, Hilarious, Catchy, Super-fun, High-Energy Escapade

Ride the Cyclone Is a Dizzying, Hilarious, Catchy, Super-fun, High-Energy Escapade

Ride the Cyclone
Arena Stage
Jordan Wright
January 23, 2023
Special to The Zebra

(l to r) Matthew Boyd Snyder (Ricky Potts), Nick Martinez (Noel Gruber), Gabrielle Dominique (Constance Blackwood), Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski), Ashlyn Maddox (Jane Doe), and Shinah Hey (Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

When the St. Cassian teen chamber choir falls to their deaths in a freak accident while riding a roller coaster at The Wonderville Traveling Fair, they enter the distant future and we do too. It is here they encounter The Amazing Karnak (Marc Geller), a “pre-cognition machine” who recalls the turban-crowned fortune tellers of yesteryear. Encased in his gilded booth, Karnak gives the five teens an ultimatum – plus a lot of shtick.  They must unanimously select the one among them who will be brought back to life. No small feat. He creates a contest with crazy prizes and in their zeal to present themselves as the most accomplished, or unfailingly sympathetic candidate, they each act out their personal stories with remarkable honesty hoping to be the chosen one. However, a mystery teen appears among them – a beautiful, anonymous girl who could not be identified due to her injuries. She is called Jane Doe (Ashlyn Maddox on the night I went – then Katie Mariko Murray) and she is as ethereal and haunting as a wraith.

Despite the six spinning through the air to their death, a grim premise indeed, the story quickly does a one-eighty becoming a captivating charmer with all the thrills and chills (and spills!) of a festive night at a carnival. We easily find ourselves transported to the future along with the teens as they weave their personal stories to win a second chance at life. Is it a game? Or is it just a ride? Fourteen cleverly written songs with lyrics that are easy to understand hold this wild ride together.

Nick Martinez (Noel Gruber), Shinah Hey (Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg), Matthew Boyd Snyder (Ricky Potts), Gabrielle Dominique (Constance Blackwood), Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski), and Marc Geller (The Amazing Karnak) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Shinah Hey) is an over-achiever (reminiscent of Elle in Legally Blonde) who presents herself as the perfect high school princess. Ocean’s bestie is Constance Blackwood (Gabrielle Dominique), a weight-challenged nerd, and self-proclaimed “nice girl” who appears to cave to Ocean’s bossiness… until she doesn’t.

Noel Gruber (Nick Martinez), who appears shy, then bursts out of his shell to reveal his secret life (Sorry, no spoilers here.). Suffice it to say there is a sultry tango, a personality change-up and a seedy French nightclub. Mischa Bachinski (Eli Mayer) is anything but shy. He is a Ukrainian hip-hopper and beat-box fan who’s in love with a peasant girl from the Old Country. He loves to sing, as long as he’s backed by Auto-Tune. And then there’s Ricky Potts (Matthew Boyd Snyder) who lives in an imaginary world of sexy space kittens and extra-terrestrials. They are all hilarious in their own individual ways.

Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski) and Nick Martinez (Noel Gruber) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Set in a dilapidated warehouse in Uranium City, Saskatchewan, Canada, this quirky, captivating, hilarious, rock musical chock-a-block with vintage carnival artifacts has been making the cult circuit for 15 years. Premiering at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center, Ride the Cyclone is a dizzying, hilarious, catchy, super-fun, high-energy escapade.

Music, Book and Lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell; Directed by Sarah Rasmussen; Original Choreography by Jim Lichtscheidl with Additional Choreography by Tiger Brown; Set Design by Scott Davis; Costume Design by Trevor Bowen; Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang; Sound Design by André Pluess.

Gabrielle Dominique (Constance Blackwood), Matthew Boyd Snyder (Ricky Potts), Shinah Hey (Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg), Nick Martinez (Noel Gruber), Eli Mayer (Mischa Bachinski), and Marc Geller (The Amazing Karnak) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Through February 19th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 488-3300.