Tag Archives: Constellation Theatre Company

Notes on Champ: Fetch Clay, Make Man and ABSOLUTELY! {perhaps}, reviewed.

Roscoe Orman and Eddie Ray Jackson as Stehin Fetchit and Muhammad Ali in "Fetch Clay, Make Man."

Roscoe Orman and Eddie Ray Jackson as Stephin Fetchit and Muhammad Ali in Fetch Clay, Make Man. (Round House Theatre)

My review of Round House Theatre‘s strong production of Will Power‘s Fetch Clay, Make Man, a play about the unlikely friendship of Muhammad Ali and Stephin Fetchit, is in today’s Washington City Paper. I also review Constellation Theatre‘s update of a century-old Luigi Pirandello play, ABSOLUTELY! {perhaps}. Continue reading

An Athenian, a Broad: The Love of the Nightingale, reviewed.

Matthew Schleigh, Megan Dominy, and Rena Cherry Brown in The Love of the Nightingale. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” is how James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome said it in 1966. (And Brown denied Newsome’s contributions to the song in court decades later, as if to prove the title correct.)

“Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” is how John Lennon and Yoko Ono said it in 1972.

“Every man has a choice to make: Commitment, or new pussy?” is how Chris Rock said it in 1996.

And The Love of the Nightingale is how Sophocles said it two-and-a-half millennia earlier, give or take, which got filtered through Ovid’s brain four centuries later, and then British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s just eight years ago. In her astute update of the sad story of Philomele and Procne, Wertenbaker dares to have one of her characters, an innocent, ask what a myth is.

“The oblique image of an unwanted truth, reverberating through time,” comes the answer.

And the unwanted truth reverberating, hard, through The Love of the Nightingale is this: Men. Are. Dogs.

Woof.

Continue reading

Hercules in Russia: Fairly strong, considering.

Sarah Ulstrup and Ricardo Frederick Evans

I reviewed Doorway Arts‘ world premiere of Allyson Currin‘s play Hercules in Russia for the Washington City Paper. Needs a rewrite, but I think it’s got plenty going for it and I’d like to see how it evolves in subsequent productions.

If you’re curious, Robert K. Massie‘s nonfiction book Nicholas and Alexandra, which helped inspire the play, is available via Google Books. Continue reading

Housekeeping, Again

Yikes. Just look at this place. I’ve let it all go to seed. Again.

I’ve been writing. I’m writing all the time. I’m just not so good sometimes about keeping my scrapbook in order. And so:

Here’s my Washington Post review of Mavis Staples’s concert at George Washington University Lisner Auditorium two weeks ago and my review of the Gorillaz show at the Patriot Center two nights later, both with some heartening reader comments that speak perfectly to my frustration about being given an arbitary ceiling of 300 words for most of these reviews. Anyway, a week after Gorillaz, I saw Nick Lowe at the Birchmere and took a ridiculous amount of time to collect my thoughts about it. What I ultimately decided is that Nick Lowe is a guy who takes his sweet time doing stuff.

For the theater crowd, here’s my Washington City Paper review of Constellation’s Burtoned-down Women Beware Women. And my debut piece for TBD, a report on last weekend’s Helen Hayes Star Gala. I was delighted my recognition of host Tyne Daly for surviving her 1976 tour of duty with maverick San Francisco Police Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan made the cut.

And now for something completely different: Happy birthday today to my beloved friends Christina Sharkey and Rebecca Haithcoat. Many happy returns, Ladies.

Constellation’s Three Sisters, Give or Take

Amy Quiggins, Nanna Ingvarsson, and Catherine Deadman

Life is hard. Life is hard and long. Life is hard and long and cold and pointless, and so it shall be for our descendants a thousand years from now, until at last, perhaps, the mystery of creation is revealed. Until then, we must suffer and endure. Any respite from said suffering and endurance shall be brief, and shall chiefly take the form of alcoholism, gambling, infidelity, and should we be so lucky, duels.

No wonder Anton Chekhov thought his plays were comedies!

Constellation’s Theatre Company’s new production of his Three Sisters finds some levity amid its pervasive existential gloom, but not nearly enough of it to prevent this handsome but staid production from feeling like a march through the Russian winter. That isn’t automatically a reason to stay away, but we don’t feel the weight of its tragedy, either — the characters seem to be miserable mostly because their creator says so. The result, despite a handful of memorable performances, feels listless and underdeveloped. Continue reading

Constellation’s Succesful Marriage

suzannefigaro3

Katy Carkuff and Joe Brack rehearse a scene from The Marriage of Figaro.

“Apollo’s warrant” and “Wag-errant” do not rhyme — not really — but Allison Stockman doesn’t want to hear it. By which we mean she does want to hear it: “Embrace the rhyme,” she instructs her charges. “Make it rhyme!”

Words to live by, or at least to perform by.

It’s a Sunday afternoon half a week into the new year, and Stockman is dismissing the cast of Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro from the Source building’s second floor rehearsal room overlooking fashionable 14th Street NW. Their homework? To parse the rhythm of the play’s spoken prologue. But “Embrace the rhyme” could just as well be a glib reduction of the company’s mission statement, which promises “visionary, expressive design with heightened physical movement and elevated language.”

That probably reads well on a grant application, but Stockman’s self-descibed “epic ensemble” has built a reputation for delivering the goods, establishing itself less in barely more than a year and a half as a destination for actors and audiences alike. Constellation made its splashy debut with a June 2007 production of August Strindberg’s obscure A Dream Play, as reworked by Caryl Churchill. (“Brisk, accessible, and surprisingly humorous,” praised This Very Newspaper at the time.) An imaginative, highly popular The Arabian Nights followed the same year.

Since then, Constellation has taken on — with varying degrees of success — critiques of socioeconomics and ethics (Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechwan), Greek tragedy (The Oriestia) and Faust-as-political allegory (Vaclav Havel’s Temptation).

The texts, which Stockman selects with the company’s seven “associate artists,” outwardly have little in common except that they call for large ensembles (a trait Stockman looks for) were all written, or derived from source material, in languages other than English (which she says she hadn’t even noticed). But the 34-year-old Baltimore native and former teacher has nonethless made her productions reflect a unified artistic vision. The link is Constellation’s house style; one that incorporates original music, dance and unabashedly outsized performances.

But — this is important — they’re still plays. Not musicals.

Not even Figaro, best known as a Mozart opera.

No, this “Figaro” comes more or less from the source: Pierre Beaumarchais’s long-censored 1778 sex comedy (or “comedy of manners,” if we must) wherein, as in the movie Braveheart, a nefarious regal type stirs up trouble by invoking his right of primae noctis — basically, dibs on a local virgin before she’s married off to some other dude. (And you complain about your taxes!) Stockman needs a little prodding to admit she stitched the script together herself from a half-dozen translations, though she’s quick to share credit with dramaturg Christie Denny, and to point out that on-the-fly revisions have come from the entire cast.

For this “period-Lite” production, Stockman is emphasizing the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, treating her actors to a workshop conducted by mimes Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell.

Visually, Stockman and resident designer A.J. Guban are using the oblong shapes of Gaudi’s buildings and Goya’s “light, pastoral” paintings as their touchstones. Costumer Yvette M. Ryan has dressed the title character and his bride — both servants — more modestly than is historically accurate, to help the audience grasp the hierarchy of the characters, given that class is one of Beaumarchais’s major themes. It’s a liberty Stockman was happy to take.

“We’ve got this French play, set in Spain, that’s best known for being an Italian opera written by an Austrian, and we’re doing it in the U.S.” she laughs. “So we felt like we had some freedom.”

Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro is at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW. (800) 494-8497. Thursday-Feb. 22. $20. Tickets are here.

A slightly shorter version of this story appears in today’s Paper of Record.