Mike Daisey is an artist I’ve written about more often and in greater detail than only anyone else. He’s certainly the artist with to whom I’ve spent the most time speaking directly. The reviews I’ve written of his monologues and the features I’ve reported about how he creates them and the op-ed I was once moved to write in his defense all reflect my great admiration for his work.
That has not prevented me from condemning him when I think he’s deserved it, and he did do something that warranted condemnation, years ago. I will say that in the third year of a Donald J. Trump administration, it seems awfully quaint that so many journalists who had never publicly discussed theatre at all before they lined up to express their outrage at Daisey in the spring of 2012 got so steamed over a guy who tells stories in theaters for a living taking some liberties with one of them.
Anyway, Daisey’s wildly ambitious current show A People’s History—an 18 part retelling of American history circa 1492-to-now, based heavily on the work of Howard Zinn but also on Daisey’s own life—is the subject of my second Washington City Paper cover story about him, available today wherever finer Washington, DC alt-weeklies are given away for free. My 2012 WCP story detailing the problems he created for himself with his show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and his effort to remedy them, is here. In fact, all of my writings about Daisey are mere clicks away! How much time do you have?
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… something. In this week’s Washington City Paper, I review Kleptocracy, an imperfect but intriguingVladimir Putin origin story by Kenneth Lin at Arena Stage, starring the guy in the cast who looks the second-most Putinlike as Putin. Plus a puzzling new production of Twelve Angry Men at Ford’s.
I wish I could muster more enthusiasm for Michael Kahn’s final Hamlet, starring Michael Urie, or for Sovereignty, an Arena Stage World Premiere entry in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival written by Mary Kathryn Nagle, who knows whereof she speaks but not how to make it sing. Those reviews are in this week’s Washington City Paper.
Prince is all I’ve thought about in the can-it-really-be-only-a-day since the world learned of his death, but here are the two theatre reviews I filed earlier in the week for the Washington City Paper.Arena Stage does Richard Schenkkan’s 2014 Tony winner All the Way, and Signature Theatre stages Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery of Love and Sex.
I struggled with my Washington City Paper review of The Lion, a strong, brief one-man musical play by the singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer. This was a case where learning about the circumstances of the show’s creation—as one is wont to do when writing about art—made me like it less in hindsight than I did the moment the performance ended. Is that fair? I’m still not sure. You can observe my attempt to work through my consternation while still giving the artist his due here.
It’s already been three weeks since I saw Arena Stage’s new production of Oliver! — Lionel Bart’s beloved 1960 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’Oliver Twist — but for various page-cutting reasons, my review did not run in the Washington City Paper until this week’s issue. Somehow I got through it without mentioning that Jeff McCarthy, who plays Fagan, was in RoboCop 2.
Ryan Rilette, Mitchell Hebert, Nancy Robinette, and Mark Jaster in “Uncle Vanya.” (Danisha Crosby)
Sherri L. Edelen, Grace Gonglewski, Jefferson Farber, Rachel Esther Tate and Eric Hissom in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” (C. Stanley Photography)
We’ve got an An-ton of Chekhov in DC just now, what with Arena Stage doing Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning, Chekhov-inflected Sonia and Masha and Vanya and Spike, while Round House Theatre has put together a sublime new Uncle Vanya, working from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker’s recent translation of the play.
I review both of those in today’s Washington City Paper. I have seen Live Art DC’s staged-in-a-bar Drunkle Vanya yet, but it’s stumbling distance from my apartment so I should find the time.
My regimen of smiling and sentence-speaking practice continues as I join host Robert Aubry Davis and Washington Post arts writer Jane Horwitz for another Around Town panel discussion of what’s happening on stage here in Our Nation’s Capitol and its close suburbs. In this batch of videos, which have also been airing irregularly on your public television, we discuss three shows I reviewed for the Washington City Paper and one I didn’t: Beth Henley’s homage to silent film comedies Laugh, the Shakespeare Theatre’s new production of the classic musical Man of La Mancha,Arena Stage’s world premiere play about divisive Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, The Originalist, and Soon, a new musical about the end of the world, kind of, at Signature Theatre.
It’s a strong week for theatre here in our Nation’s Capitol. My reviews of The Originalist, Arena Stage playwright-in-residence John Strand’s much-awaited play about Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and United States v. Windsor, and Forum Theatre‘s magnificent production of Sarah Ruhl’sPassion Play, are in today’s Washington City Paper.Go read ’em. Please.
On this trio of Around Town discussions, host Robert Aubry Davis,Washington Post arts writer Jane Horwitz and I dissect Arena Stage‘s powerful King Hedley II,Woolly Mammoth‘s meandering Cherokee, and Folger Theatre‘s intriguingMary Stuart. (My Washington City Paper reviews of are here,here, and here, respectively.) I’m sorry my hair wasn’t as concise and insightful on this day as I strive at all times for it to be. Continue reading →
My reviews of Arena Stage‘s unsparing new production of August Wilson‘s “century cycle” tragedy King Hedley II and Woolly Mammoth‘s premiere of Lisa D’Amour‘s shaky Cherokee are in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Bethany Anne Lind, Tess Malis Kincaid, and Tom Key in Arena’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” (Teresa Wood)
If you don’t know what to get your playgoing (or at least not-theatre-averse) parents for Christmas, and you can afford the freight, Arena Stage’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner-starring Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum are both good revivals of 1960s items that they’re likely to enjoy.
I liked them, too. But then, I’m big on the music, movies, and TV of the 60s. I review both in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.
SUPERFAMILIAS: David Deblinger and Tim Getman (Stan Barouh/Theater J)
Any honest critic will occasionally find himself out on a lonely limb, and this week it’s my turn. To me and apparently no one else, Arena Stage’s The Normal Heart — a historically vital play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City — is morally worthy but artistically wanting.
I am girding myself for hate mail.
People sometimes make fun of Ford’s Theatre’s presidential history plays for being dowdy and pedantic; for being more interested in teaching us A Very Important Lesson than in taking us somewhere. That’s how The Normal Heart felt to me, albeit with a lot more crying. (Also, I tend to like the musty presidential histories.) I happen to agree with the play’s politics, as I understand them — though that really shouldn’t matter at all — and I acknowledge in my review that activist/playwright Larry Kramer was writing in a time and place when subtlety would not have been an appropriate or effective response to the nightmare he and his peers were living through.
I just don’t think the preachy, shouty play he wrote holds up, removed from that urgent context. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary. Continue reading →