Tag Archives: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

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.