Tag Archives: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

When They Stop Looking at Us: Fairview, reviewed.

Chinna Palmer in the Woolly production of Fairview. (Teresa Castracane)

When I saw Woolly Mammoth Theater Company’s production of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present... in 2014, it was the worst show I’d ever seen. Five-and-a-half years later, it still is. So to say that I liked Woolly’s new production of Fairview, Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winner that made its debut last year, better than her previous work is of little value. But I liked it a lot. I appreciated it, more like.

I do understand that my approval is not required. It never is. My Washington City Paper review is here.

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?

Theatre of Pain: Woolly’s Gloria and Round House’s Small Mouth Sounds, reviewed.

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After the customary late summer lull, I’m back on the theater beat. Last week’s Washington City Paper featured my reviews of two plays that first appeared in 2015, now making their regional premieres Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ stunner Gloria, at Woolly Mammoth, and Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl, at Round House.

FURTHER READING: My 2013 City Paper profile of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is here.

The Once and Future Prince: Botticelli in the Fire, reviewed.

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Canuck Renaissance Man Jordan Tannahill’s Renaissance fantasy Botticelli in the Fire is the quintessence of what several speakers at Monday night’s tribute to retiring Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company co-founder Howard Shalwtiz referred to as “a Woolly play.” I tend to like those, and this one I happened to love. Here’s my Washington City Paper review.

Less Is More: John and Underground Railroad Game, reviewed.

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Criticism imitating art imitating life: My Washington City Paper review of Annie Baker’s John at Signature Theatre is three times as long as my review of the touring Underground Railroad Game at Woolly Mammoth, just as John is three times as long as Underground Railroad Game. And roughly a third as rewarding.

Your mileage, as ever, may vary.

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.

The Hateful Eighth: An Octoroon and To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, reviewed.

The Octoroon, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co.

My review of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company remount of An Octoroon, the best show I saw in 2016, is here. I should’ve credited Gwydion Suilebhan (a Woolly staffer, though I’ve known him longer than he’s been on payroll there) for the observation in paragraph four about police body cameras; I couldn’t swear I would’ve thought of that if he hadn’t mentioned it to me when we were chatting after the show. He’s a playwright and a very smart guy, so if you’re going to pilfer ideas, he’s a good victim.

I also reviewed To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic, the latest literary comedy from Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri.

FURTHER READING: My 2013 profile of An Octoroon playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Woolly Mammoth’s Hir and Rick Foucheux’s possibly-career-capping Avant Bard King Lear, reviewed.

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My review of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’srich and fervent” production of Taylor Mac’s family tragicomedy Hir is in this week’s Washington City Paper, along with a shorter one of WSC Avant Bard’s latest King Lear — which just might be the swan song of one of DC’s most venerable actors, the great Rick Foucheux. Pick up a paper copy for old time’s sake.

Von Braun play Ad Astra, assessed for Air & Space


Two of my main beats—aviation/space and theatre—overlapped last week when I attended a reading of Ad Astra, a new play by James Wallert about the life of pioneering rocket scientist—and Nazi—Wernher von Braun. I wrote a post about that for Air & Space/Smithsonian, but at my editor’s suggestion we removed a paragraph where I named the four actors who performed the reading. That was the right call for Air & Space’s audience; after all, when Ad Astra gets fully staged it will likely be with a different cast. Still, the cast—all members of New York’s Epic Theatre Ensemble, which Wallert co-founded—was terrific, so I’d like to name them here. Continue reading

Epic-in-the-Brechtian-Sense Fail: Kiss, reviewed.

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Feeling compelled to write a play about war or genocide? You’ve got your work cut out for you, but God bless. Feel compelled to turn your frustration over how hard it is to write a good play about war or genocide into a play? Please stop. A lot of things are about you, but not everything.

Woolly Mammoth’s American premiere of Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón’s Kiss is not as bad as Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present, because nothing I’ve ever seen on a stage is as myopic and offensive as Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present. But it ain’t good. I break it down in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis.

Dealer’s Choice: The Trump Card, reviewed.

Mike-DaiseyThis took a few days longer to appear than it should’ve, for boring reasons only partly within my control. Anyway, last Friday I attended a workshop of a new monologue by Mike Daisey — an artist I’ve written a lot over the last six or seven years. I didn’t find room in the piece to mention that the monologue was directed by Isaac Butler, who has been doing some terrific writing on the theatre for Slate. The oral history of Angels and America that he and my sometimes-editor Dan Kois posted this week is marvelous piece of historical journalism. Anyway, my Washington City Paper review of the still-developing The Trump Card is (finally) here.

The Meek Shall Inherit the Dearth: Guards at the Taj and You, or Whatever I Can Get, reviewed.

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My reviews of Rajiv Joseph’s marvelous 2015 Guards at the Taj, now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and of Flying V’s new musical comedy You, or Whatever I Can Get, are in this week’s Washington City Paper. You are alerted.

Personal Is Geopolitical: Chimerica and Women Laughing Alone with Salad, reviewed.

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My review of the U.S. debut of Lucy Kirkwood’s sprawling, ambitious drama Chimerica at the Studio Theatre is in today’s Washington City Paper. Also reviewed: Women Laughing Alone with Salad, a surreal feminist comedy from Sheila Callaghan making its world premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For those keeping score, that’s one great play by a woman that’s not officially part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, and one pretty good play that is. Read those pieces here, or pick up a dead-tree WCP, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis — and you don’t even need to have an Amazon Prime subscription! Continue reading

In the Flesh: Zombie: The American and NSFW, reviewed.

Two satires, each alike in indignation. My reviews of Robert O’Hara’s world premiere Zombie: The American at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Lucy Kirkwood’s 2012 NSFW at Round House Theatre are in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis.

On Around Town, talking King Hedley II, Mary Stuart, and Cherokee

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 3.29.40 PM 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 intriguing Mary 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

Bleak-Ass House: King Hedley II and Cherokee, reviewed.: King Hedley II and Cherokee, reviewed.

(L to R) KenYatta Rogers as Mister and Bowman Wright as King in King Hedley II at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, February 6-March 8, 2015. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.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.

Wig Time: Marie Antoinette, reviewed.

My review of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s production of David Adjmi‘s Marie Antoinette, starring the great Kimberly Gilbert, is in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

The Battle of Los Angeles: Rodney King, reviewed.

Roger Guenveur Smith performs his haunting and perceptive 65-minute monologue "Rodney King."My review of Rodney King, Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man play about the man he calls “the first reality TV star,” is in this week’s Washington City Paper.

Strange We Can Believe In: The Totalitarians and Kwaidan, reviewed.

Emily Townley in Rober O'Hara's production of  Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's "The Totalitarians" for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Two towering comic performances make Robert O’Hara’s “rolling world premiere” production a must-see: Emily Townley’s, plus Dawn Ursula’s as Francine Jefferson, a campaign manager who sees Townley’s Penelope as an obedient blank canvas on which she can paint her ticket out of Nebraska. The piece opens with Francine rolling around in bed in her underwear, oblivious to her simpering husband’s pleas for sex as she tries to come up with an indelible three-word campaign slogan. “Freedom From Fear” is the pithy nothing she lands on. Or, since nobody has time for that mouthful: “Fuh Fuh Fuh.” (It’s the economy of phrasing, stupid.)

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