Tag Archives: theatre

527 Dog Years: Mike Daisey tells A People’s History

Class is in session. (Darrow Montgomery for the Washington City Paper)

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?

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

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

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.

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.

Enda the Road: Studio’s The New Electric Ballroom and Capital Fringe’s Unquiet Mind, review’d

Jennifer Mendenhall, Nancy Robinette and Sybil Lines in "The New Electric Ballroom"

The final entry in Studio Theatre’s Enda Walsh festival, The New Electric Ballroom, is the least rewarding, squandering some lovely performances — and, as always, Walsh’s muddy lyricism — in the service of an opaque story that asks you to accept that a mild romantic disappointment in adolescence would drive not one but two women smeared-lipstick crazy for 40 years. The show is often called a companion piece to the concurrently-running The Walworth Farce, which it preceded by a year, but to me it feels more like an early draft.

My Washington City Paper review is here, along with a complimentary assessment of the Capital Fringe-affiliated Run Through the Unquiet Mind.

Theater J’s Return to Haifa, reviewed

My understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not significantly more nuanced than they way it’s rendered here, but I was moved by and wrote about Return to Haifa, the 2008 Israeli stage adaptation of the 1970 Palestinian novella.

Money Talks: Mike Daisey and The Last Cargo Cult

Mike Daisey has a money problem.

It isn’t that he has too little, or, God knows, too much. To hear the 36-year-old raconteur tell it, his money problem is the same one that afflicts us all.

“Money — currency — is corrosive to human relationships,” he says flatly. “It corrodes the human connections that create communities, and replaces them with fiduciary connections.”

Strange talk from a man who once made his living as a business development executive for Amazon, an experience he chronicled in his 2002 monologue and memoir of the late-90s tech bubble, 21 Dog Years. But on a break from preparations at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, four days before his latest solo show opens here, Daisey has the confidence of certainty, however provocative his premise. Even in what is ostensibly an informal chat, he unspools his argument in lucid, flowing paragraphs, seldom restarting a sentence the way amateur conversationalists are prone to do. Continue reading

Evita’s Exquisite Corpse

Eva Peron
Remember Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 70s bio-musical about the beloved Argentine political icon Eva Perón? Cinema-tized with Madonna in the 90s? No? Well, it did tend to linger on the relatively dull early section of Perón’s story: the part where she’s alive.

It turns out that when Perón traded cancer for immortality at the martyrdom-enabling age of 33, her role in steering her country’s future was just beginning.
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Masterpiece Theatre: The Woman Who Amuses Herself

Mona.Lisa.smile.by.da.Vinci
Oh, like you’ve never taken a lady home and had second thoughts about it.

You know the Mona Lisa, yeah? A lot of smart people think a big reason why the half-millennia-old Renaissance masterpiece remains instantly recognizable to you, you Big Mac-eating, CW-watching, New York Times-ignoring philistine, is because in 1911, somebody stole it. Continue reading

The Folger’s Radiant Arcadia: Sexy-Time for Your Brain

Arcadia---1809

Whaddaya mean I’m two years too late for a Borat joke?

This still from Aaron Posner’s brilliant new staging of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the Folger wouldn’t make me want to run out and see it, really. But I hope my DCist review will inspire you to do just that. Best thing I’ve seen on a stage in 2009, certainly, and probably going back a goodly while earlier than that. Run, don’t walk.

What, you want more? Okay. Review proper begins after the jump.
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Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

Continue reading