Tag Archives: theater

Unconvention Centers: The Welders’ Transmission and Solas Nua’s Wild Sky, reviewed.

Megan Graves and Dylan Morrison Myers in "Wild Sky" (Solas Nua)

In today’s Washington City Paper, I review two new plays being staged in unusual environments. The Welders’ Transmission, by playwright/performer Gwydion Suilebhan, is a thoughtful meditation on the hazards of storytelling, while Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Sky is a human-scale look back at a pivotal moment in Ireland’s struggle for self-governance. It’s also the first show from Solas Nua in five years. I’m glad they’re back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging in the Dirt

Holly Twyford and Natlia Payne.

In today’s City Paper, I review the second entry in the Studio Theatre’s Lab Series for new plays, Bryony Lavery’s Dirt. She wrote the masterfully chilling unsettling kiddie-killer drama Frozen, which played at Studio back in 2006. She also wrote Beautiful Burnout, a boxing play that I’m eager to see because, well, I like stories that involve boxing for the same reason I love to box: metaphors for the bruising, thrilling experience of life itself don’t come any clearer.

I was a big admirer of Studio’s production of the first Studio Lab show, Duncan Macmillian‘s Lungs, which was at Studio at this time last year. Dirt has some thematic congruity with that play, but it isn’t quite as surefooted, at least not yet. There’s some wastage. But the good stuff is very good. Holly Twyford elevates everything she’s in and DC newcomer Natalia Payne is an actor I hope we’ll start seeing all over the place. She’s phenom-mana. Continue reading

Too Past for Love: Signature’s Dying City and Spooky Action’s Reckless, reviewed

Rachel Zampelli & Thomas Keegan in DYING CITY (Scott Suchman)

Hear ye, hear ye: My reviews of new productions of Christopher Shinn‘s somber 2006 drama Dying City and Craig Lucas‘s surreal 1983 comedy Reckless are in today’s Washington City Paper.

Wrestling Guys

My review of Woolly Mammoth‘s production of Kristoffer Diaz‘s very funny wrestling play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity ran in the City Paper last Friday, while I was busy cavorting abroad.

Her name? None of your business!

. . .

That was a little joke. Very. Sorry. I was in airports and on planes for 25 hours yesterday, which is yesterday-plus. Cut me some slack, willya?

I Think About Autism, Therefore I’m Not: Theater J’s Body Awareness, reviewed

Bedroom cries: MaryBeth Wise, Susan Lynskey & Adi Stein

I reviewed Theater J‘s production of Annie Baker‘s breakout play, Body Awareness, in today’s City Paper.

Two years ago I reviewed Baker’s follow-up, Circle Mirror Transformation, for the Examiner.

Faux REALS: On the Longevity of the Longjohn-Wearing Hero

“…but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos.”

I wrote about Gwydion Suilebhan‘s new superhero play REALS this week, taking his provocation that “Superhero films are bad for you” as a jumping off point for talking about, well, superhero films.

Not quite 10 years ago, I spent the better part of a year trying to write one. It was called Hero Complex, and it was about a guy who becomes convinced he’s the illegitimate son of The Gryphon, the mightiest hero around. I was aiming for a bittersweet comedy with touches of doomed romance and magical realism. I pitched it to my professor and fellow students in my screenwriting program as “a Wes Anderson superhero movie.”

I wrote two full drafts and many more first acts. I had a version where my hero was in his early 20s and unattached, and a version where he was 40 and married with kids. Neither was very good, but there was a scene here, a line there, that I thought might be worth saving.

Then The Incredibles came out. That’s not a film that bears much resemblance to my description of the one I was trying to sweat into existence, but at the time it felt close enough to make me throw up my hands. I loved The Incredibles. I felt certain my screenplay would never get to be that good, no matter how many night and weekends I sacrificed to it on the altar of my crumb-covered, coffee-stained keyboard. Continue reading

AIDS Crisis on Infinite Earths: On The History of Invulnerability and The Normal Heart

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

SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Joseph Papp, 1921-1991

Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don’t think I’ve been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper’s coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010.

I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Blame It on Cain: Round House’s Double Indemnity, reviewed

Here’s my City Paper review of Round House Theatre’s production of the stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain’s Depression-era serialized novel.

Some plot developments may seem unfamiliar to those of us who only know the story from Billy Wilder’s iconic 1944 film noir, which departs from Cain’s structure in ways that’re all to the good. There’s nothing wrong with this play, really, but it’s hardly an essential document the way Wilder’s movie is.

The Full Monty: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, reivewed

“Ehhhhhhhhxcellent.”

However precipitous its decline, The Simpsons remains the only TV show my entire family will sit in the same room and watch together. (Mom, I suspect, might just be going along to get along.) But one needn’t have so intimate an association with TV’s longest-lived comedy to appreciate the grim genius of Anne Washburn‘s Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. I review Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s world-premiere production in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free. Sorry about the ugly split infinitive that crept in there, you guys. Continue reading

They Want Their Money Back If You’re Alive at 33: WSC Avant Bard’s The Tooth of Crime

John Tweel sits atop a throne of guitars as Hoss.

I struggled with Kathleen Akerley‘s production of Sam Shepard‘s The Tooth of Crime after I saw it last weekend. The play is a fascinating time capsule of how much danger and possibility pop music, and rock and roll specifically, must’ve still had when Shepard wrote it back in 1972. That gives it a charm that partially compensates for the fact the (apparently) postapocalyptic world it’s set in is so cryptic and thinly drawn. Continue reading

On Criticism

Critic/profilie writer par excellence Ken Tynan in 1966. Item No. 11 on my list should’ve been “Don’t smoke.”

So on Sunday evening I had the pleasure of talking with a dozen or so very smart high schoolers enrolled in the Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Young Critics Program. They’ve seen and written about every show in the STC’s season this year, and heard from several other guest speakers. The invitation suggested a few topics and said I should be ready with material enough to speak for 30 minutes, with some additional time after that for questions and discussion. They wanted some basic biographical stuff and some inside-baseball stuff about writing for newspapers, but the part I was most interested in talking about is the basic set of principles I try to use when I write criticism.

I made notes. Since I already went to the trouble of typing them, I’d like to share them here.

I should acknowledge I’ve lifted at least a few of these from a talk my pal the great film critic Michael Phillips, currently of the Chicago Tribune, gave during an NEA fellowship I took part in in Los Angeles in 2009. Hail and thank you, Michael Phillips.

Also, please bear in mind I was trying to make my comments appropriate for an audience of precocious ninth-through-12th-graders. So people much smarter than I am, in other words.

Here’s what I said to them. Continue reading

How the Pest Was Won: On Posner’s The Taming of the Shrew

WEST PRACTICES: Danny Scheie, Cody Nickell, and Kate Eastwood Norris (Jeff Malet)

In Deadwood’s poetically vulgar patois, Aaron Posner’s Deadwood-inspired new The Taming of the Shrew at the Folger Theatre is “beholden to no human cocksucker.” I review it in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis. Continue reading

Repast is Prologue: Studio’s The Big Meal, reviewed, plus a Commedia Hamlet and a pair of Shavian sex comedies

Chris Genebach and Hyla Matthews in Studio Theatre’s THE BIG MEAL. (Carol Pratt)

With three reviews in today’s City Paper, you’d think all I did last weekend was go to plays*. Besides Studio’s wonderful production of Dan LeFranc‘s The Big Meal, I saw Faction of Fools‘s Commedia take on Hamlet, repurposed as Hamlecchino, Clown Prince of Denmark. Plus a Shavian two-fer from Washington Stage Guild. Continue reading

We Get to Carey Each Other: Arena Stage’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, reviewed

The maid isn’t young or buxom in Arena’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, in defiance of Eugene O’Neill’s famously specific casting specs, but Helen Carey‘s unforgettable performance as Mary Tyrone makes it worthwhile.

You Was My Brudda, Charlie, You Shoulda etc., etc.: On the Waterfront, the play, reviewed

I reviewed the American Century Theater’s production of On the Waterfront — not exactly a straight adaptation of of the Oscar-winning 1954 film written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, but one of the several, separate versions Schulberg reworked for the stage beginning in 1995.

This one differs from the film in a few significant ways. Read on.

Mike Daisey Returns to Woolly Mammoth So People Who Knew Who He Was Back Before That This American Life Episode Aired in January Can Throw Stones at Him If They Want

Wait, wait, I'm still apologizing! Don't start the music yet!

Mike Daisey appeared for a one-hour public Q & A session last night at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the place where his controversial monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was born — or, to use his creepy syntax, “birthed.”

It was an interesting hour highlighted by a fascinating exchange near the end, which I reproduce in my Washington City Paper Arts Desk post about it.

Pushing Daisey

BROOKE HATFIELD/Washington City Paper

More than 3,000 words later, I’m still sorting through my thoughts about what Mike Daisey has done. While I think it’s unfair to compare him to Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, as many have, I’m still puzzled by my inclination to defend a guy who endangered the reputation of This American Life by lying to Ira Glass and Brian Reed to prevent them from fact-checking his story as thoroughly as they should have.

And yeah, as someone who has been a part of Daisey’s theater audience for years, I guess I could say he lied to me, too. I know a lot of people who paid to see (full disclosure: I didn’t pay for my ticket) The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs feel indignant on those grounds.

I don’t.

I don’t go to the theater for news, any more than I go to a dentist when I need my car serviced. Even when something is billed as “a work of nonfiction,” as this show was, I approach it skeptically. And I don’t consider myself an unusually cynical person. I consider myself to be the kind of person who, after seeing a show or a film or reading something that moves me and deepens my interest in an issue, then consults other sources. Continue reading

Do the Fight Thing: More on Sucker Punch, now that I’ve seen it.

Sheldon Best & Manny Brown in Studio's SUCKER PUNCH (Scott Suchman)

I did a follow-up to my Washington City Paper feature about the fight choreography in the Studio Theatre’s current U.S. premiere of Roy Williams’s boxing play Sucker Punch after the play had opened, and after the Washington Post had run their subsequent story on the same topic.

New Jerusalem, reviewed

Strain & Tolaydo in Theater J's NEW JERUSALEM.

I’ll just go ahead and admit I hadn’t heard of Baruch de Spinoza, or hadn’t remembered his name from Philosophy 101 a million years ago. But David Ives’s Venus in Fur was, I think, the best play I saw in DC last year, so when I had the opportunity to catch Theater J’s current remount of their 2010 production of Ives’s New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, I fairly jumped at the chance.