Category Archives: theatre

Wake Up: Studio’s Skeleton Crew and Theatre Alliance’s Word Becomes Flesh, reviewed.

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You’ve got two, two, two big shows written by and starring people of color up in the District just now: Skeleton Crew, the third entry in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit series, has the same concerns as Lynne Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat but it’s a better play, and Studio Theatre’s production is built to last. And Psalmayene 24’s multi Helen Hayes Award-winning production of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Word Becomes Flesh is back at Theatre Alliance for a remount starring the same superb cast it did last year. I review both in this week’s Washington City Paper. For which I also wrote the cover story, for some reason. It’s not like I get paid by the word, people.

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Talk Shop: My Washington City Paper cover feature on Story District’s 20th* anniversary

2005-Speakeasy_I did it for the story-first marketing campaign as SpeakeasyDC-photo by Manuel Claros

The oral yarn-spinning concern now known by the moniker Story District is the subject of this week’s Washington City Paper cover feature—my fourth, I think. I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out. I only regret that I didn’t find the right space to mention John Kevin Boggs, who was a huge contributor to that organization, and to DC’s performing arts community in general, as a storyteller and instructor. He passed away in March of 2015, much, much too soon.

*Kinda. The Speakeasy open mics, which were started by Washington Storytellers Theatre (est. 1991), began in 1997. WST became SpeakeasyDC in 2005 and then Story District in 2015.

Fiery Reentry: Howard Shalwitz Returns to the Stage in The Arsonists

ARSONISTS 750x300

Gwydion Suilebhan, the playwright who by day is Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s marketing chief, knows how to tailor a pitch. He hooked me on the idea of doing a feature about Woolly co-founder Howard Shalwitz’s return to acting after almost a decade away by suggesting that Shalwitz is DC theatre’s answer to John Cazale. I took him so literally that I had a couple of paragraphs to that effect that my first draft.
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Deleted Scene: Howard & Jen & Lenny & Lou & The Wheelbarrow Walk

LENNY&LOU H Shalwitz, J Mendenhall chair 3939

It pains me to report that when my Washington City Paper story about Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Founding Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz’s career as an actor hits tomorrow it’ll be absent one filthy anecdote from his Lenny & Lou co-star Jennifer Mendenhall that had to be sacrificed for space considerations. (Newsprint doesn’t grow on tr—you know what, never mind).

Anyway, here’s the bit. My apologies to Ms. Mendenhall’s spouse Michael Kramer, who gave me some less salacious but still insightful comments about directing Shalwitz in a 1990 production of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly that also hit the cutting room floor.

Mendenhall had been a little intimidated, she recalls, when she’d had to share a long kiss with Shalwitz—an actor she hadn’t met before—in Savage in Limbo. But when Prewitt put the two actors together again in Lenny & Lou, 17 years later, that kiss felt like mere foreplay.

Or five-or-six-play, if chief Washington Post theatre critic Peter Marks is to be believed.

“It’s not pornographic exactly,” Marks wrote in his admiring 2004 review of Lenny & Lou, “though one scene of acrobatic rutting is so well-choreographed it would make a decent novelty act in an X-rated Cirque du Soleil.”

Woolly was without a regular address at that time (the show was performed at the Kennedy Center Theatre J, which makes that filthy sequence all the more fun to try to imagine), and Mendenhall recalls rehearsals taking place in offices borrowed from Theatre J Woolly’s temporary office space. Mendenhall kept urging Prewitt and fight director John Gurskisex scenes have fight directors—to let the encounter be more absurdly explicit.

“I said, ‘We need a wheelbarrow walk.’ Howard said, ‘What’s a wheelbarrow walk?’ I said, ‘I’ll show you!’” Mendenhall recalls, laughing. She says Shalwitz’s one job during their carnal melee was to hold her skirt down so it she wouldn’t moon the audience. But he’d sometimes forget. The night her parents were in the audience was one of the nights when he forgot.

“It was insane,” she says. “It was so fun.”

Photo: Howard Shalwitz and Jennifer Mendenhall in Ian Cohen’s Lenny & Lou, directed by Tom Prewitt. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 2004. Thanks to Gwydion Suilebhan and Lexi Dever at Woolly for digging up the picture.

The Strangest Yard: Whipping, or The Football Hamlet, reviewed. Plus: King Kirby.

Em and Kamau

My review of Kathleen Akerley’s latest opus, Whipping, or The Football Hamlet, is in today’s Washington City Paper, along with a few paragraphs about another show that has regrettably already closed: Crystal Skillman & Fred Van Lente’s King Kirby, a bio-play about legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby and his lifelong struggle to be fairly compensated for the dozens of Marvel Comics characters he created—or co-created with Stan Lee. They don’t agree on who did what, and therein lies the tale.

If this subject interests you, I recommend Sean Howe’s 2012 history Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

The Hateful Eighth: An Octoroon and To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, reviewed.

The Octoroon, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co.

My review of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company remount of An Octoroon, the best show I saw in 2016, is here. I should’ve credited Gwydion Suilebhan (a Woolly staffer, though I’ve known him longer than he’s been on payroll there) for the observation in paragraph four about police body cameras; I couldn’t swear I would’ve thought of that if he hadn’t mentioned it to me when we were chatting after the show. He’s a playwright and a very smart guy, so if you’re going to pilfer ideas, he’s a good victim.

I also reviewed To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, the latest literary comedy from Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri.

FURTHER READING: My 2013 profile of An Octoroon playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Flying V Fights: The Secret History of the Unknown World, reviewed.

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Just because Flying V’s latest fight-choreography-themed show, The Secret History of the Unknown World, is pandering to me even harder than other fight-intensive shows doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it, too. Read all about it in this week’s Washington City Paper. Also reviewed: Mosaic Theatre Company’s U.S. premiere of Hanna Eady and Edward Mast’s drama The Return.