Tag Archives: Jennifer Mendenhall

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

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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

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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.

Fear of a Dwarf Planet: Forum’s Pluto and WSC’s Orlando, reviewed.

David Zimmerman, Jennifer Mendendall, and Kimberly Gilbert in Forum Theatre's "Pluto."
NOTICE: My reviews of Steve Yockey‘s “rolling world premiere” Pluto for Forum Theatre and Sarah Ruhl‘s adaptation of Virginia Woolf‘s 1928 novel Orlando at WSC Avant Bard are in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away yadda yadda yadda.

Personal is Heretical: Theater J’s Andy and the Shadows, reviewed.

high-fidelity-movie-poster-4fc9aac36bb54To paraphrase the leader of the free world, let me be clear: I liked Theater J’s premiere of Artistic Director Ari Roth’s long-gestating, heavily autobiographical play, Andy and the Shadows. I liked it a lot.  It’s too long, its references too scattered and too many, and at the end you feel like you’ve spent your time in the company of a hyperactive (if uncommonly sensitive and articulate) 19-year-old who just will not stop talking, ever. But these are good problems to have. Overreach is better than undereach. And the cast is just tremendous.

The play, as I note, has been around in some form since nearly a decade prior to the publication of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity in 1995, which means it almost certainly also predates Stephen Frears’ Y2K film version of the book.

Nevertheless, the play’s likeness to the movie is sort of uncanny.

My review of the play in today’s Washington City Paper lays out the evidence. Any resemblance to fictional persons, living or dead, is accidental. Continue reading