The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus presents “Fully Charged” (photos)

March 22, 2012

The circus was in town. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus presents “Fully Charged” at the Verizon Center in Washington DC with shows on March 15-18. After the DC run, the show moves on to Baltimore, Md., and then Fairfax, Va., in April. View our photos of “The Greatest Show on Earth” by clicking on the icons below. (Photography by Jeff Malet)

View additional photos of this performance plus additional dances by the company by clicking here. [gallery ids="100538,100551,100552,100553,100554,100555,100556,100557,100558,100559,100560,100550,100549,100539,100540,100541,100542,100543,100544,100545,100546,100547,100548,100561" nav="thumbs"]

Flemenco Festival 2012 at Lisner Auditorium featuring Rafaela Carrasco (photos)

Flamenco is a unique art form that combines dancing, guitar playing, singing, and a stocatto handclapping. It is native to the Andalusian region of southern Spain and may have been influenced by the Gypsies, and in part from Spain’s early Morrish culture. Seville’s Rafaela Carrasco is a breathtaking dancer and one of the most important flamenco choreographers of the younger generation. She and her troupe performed at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium in Washinton DC on March 7 during Flemenco Festival 2012. View our photos of her classic performance by clicking on the photo icons below. (Photography by Jeff Malet) [gallery ids="100534,120037,120029,120021,120013,120006,119997,119989,120053,119980,120060,120067,119970,120073,120045" nav="thumbs"]

‘1776,’ the Musical, Still Tugs at America’s Heart

1776. How 236 years ago.

“1776,” the musical. How 42 years ago.

The latest production of “1776,” now at Ford’s Theatre, is playing right during the longest-running reality show in the nation, the Republican Party race for the presidential nomination. How 36 seconds ago.

It is a familiar musical — about how a group of divided, discordant and discomfited bunch of men representing the 13 colonies would eventually come up with the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia and thus declare themselves a nation of free peoples. It always resonates mightily when performed in the Washington area, even as a high school or dinner theatre production. (We were mindful that it is being staged in the theater where President Abraham Lincoln was shot and performed on the night we attended that the Prime Minister of Britain was being cheered at the White House.)

What’s amazing about “1776,” with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, is that it works at all. The music and songs are to be sure witty, but they’re not in the exalted Broadway musical stratosphere that includes Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim. It does not strive for anything resembling contemporary pop music styles. The score, songs and lyrics are what they are: they fit perfectly to the needs of the book, a soaring ballad here, a sarcastic, rousing number there, a funny one around the corner, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And maybe that’s what makes things work, because this has always been a show about the characters in it — by the people, for the people and about the people.

The main purpose of “1776” has always been to give audiences a human look at the men who ended up producing and signing the Declaration of Independence, the visionary heart and soul of American democracy as created then and living through the years and today. Here are the defiant, grimly determined John Adams (“They find me annoying, nobody likes me”), the stolid John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson missing his wife to the point of total distraction (“It’s been six months”), the icily charismatic John Dickinson, defender of property and loyal to the British Crown, the scathing and charming Edward Rutledge, cynical defender of slavery, elderly rock star of the American Revolution Benjamin Franklin and the rum-addled Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, to name a few.

In 1776, the Continental Army was short on almost everything — morale, men, organization, weapons and salt peter, awaiting a British assault in New York. The Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia where it was a choice between flies and oppressive heat and separation from or reconciliation with Great Britain. That something as historically astounding and resounding as the Declaration emerged from the band of hardly brothers seems in the very least remarkable and in the end inspiring.

Edwards and Stone won Tonys for “1776” but never again matched anything remotely in the way of success of this oddly old-fashioned but also revolutionary show. It’s not a debunking of the legendary names on the declaration, but it surely humanizes the process. We always knew that Adams was an indispensable man here, that Jefferson was young then, in love with his wife, and an all-around genius and that Benjamin Franklin was a genial lech, disliked his royalist son and embraced fame with fervor.

Songs range from show opener “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down!” to the rousing and funny “The Lees of Old Virginia,” sung with flood-like gusto by Stephen S. Schmidt as Richard Henry Lee, and “He Plays the Violin,” a hymn of praise and prowess in which Erin Kruse, as Martha Jefferson, suggests something more than musical gifts for her husband. “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” John Dickinson’s praise of pragmatism (“always to the right, never to the left”) presages our battling political parties of 2012, and “Molasses to Rum,” in which Gregory Maheu as Edward Rutledge blasts out an angry, chilling defense of slavery by way of hypocrisy, bring us to the present in one way or another. Everyone gets a say, or a song as it were.

Top acting kudos: Brooks Ashmankis as John Adams, singing with confidence, a man who acts with no limitations but knows his own very well; D.C.’s Shakespearean comic great Floyd King as the semi-sober Stephen Hopkins; Kruse and Kates Fisher as Abigail Adams on the ladies’ side. In particular, one should single out Robert Cuccioli as Dickerson — dressed in dandified black, grey and white, an actor who commands the stages and the audience in every scene. With charisma to spare as well is Maheu, the even more dandified but also shark-like representative from South Carolina, whose embrace of slavery sound like the whispers of the snake in the garden. “They are property,” he sneers, as if that were that.

This great debate in Philadelphia echoes loudly among us, all across the land, by ways of communication these founding signers had never anticipated. When the group agonizes over its deadlock and inability to do anything (“Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve”), they sound like nothing less than today’s Republican and Democratic members of Congress. And with so many presidential candidates, Supreme Court justices and politicians of today claiming intimate personal knowledge of our Founding Fathers, they might be well off checking out this show.

“1776” runs a solid three hours with intermission, but the time and the show passes swiftly. It’s an engrossing production, hugely entertaining and engaging. It plays like a big echo from 236 years ago and from 36 seconds ago.

(“1776” plays through May 19 at Ford’s Theatre.)
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‘Sucker Punch’ Packs Quite a Wallop

March 15, 2012

Packs a wallop. Packs a punch. A one-round, one-act knockout. Like a punch in the mouth.

The temptation is to slide and jab and slip right into a whole bunch of boxing metaphors when describing “Sucker Punch,” the new play from Britain by Roy Williams at the Studio Theater. But while it squarely puts itself into the realm of cinematic — “Rocky,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” “Raging Bull” and even theatrical (Clifford Odet’s “Golden Boy” which was also a film) — ring sagas, “Sucker Punch” is a little more complicated than that.

It’s an odd mish-mash of a play. While it hews to some of the clichés and metaphors of boxing as a way out of poverty and rough upbringing, it’s also a kinetic production with imaginatively and powerfully potent staged fights, so vivid that you might expect to hear a bell starting the next round to wake you up in the morning.

It’s also English, set during the prime ministership of Meryl Streep — that is, Margaret Thatcher — a time in which the law-and-order prone leader and her police force frequently clashed with the poorer immigrant and working-class population of the country. This was a backdrop to “Billy Elliott,” the musical in which a working class youngster took up ballet instead of boxing as a way out in a setting of the rough nation-wide miner’s strike. Thatcher had a lot in common with her great admirer and co-leader of the Free World, President Ronald Reagan, and today’s union-busting American governors.

In the time of “Sucker Punch,” there were riots and demonstrations in the streets of South London with police clashing with younger denizens of the ghettos, many of them immigrants from the British Empire’s old colonies, such as Jamaica.

Leon and Troy, who have odd-job jobs at a local gymn where a tough, retired white boxer named Charlie is running the place into the ground, while trying to train boxers up to the national level of competition, including an embittered, racist punk named Tommy. One day, Charlie spies Leon in a clash with Tommy and notices his speed and power, and the rest is, if not history, the rest of the play.

Leon and his closest friend, the angry, suspicious, belligerent and charismatic Troy, clash over Leon’s budding friendship with Charlie, who has offered to train him, and over his budding romance with Becky, Charlie’s daughter. The friends part with Leon getting (and mostly winning) fights under the backing and tutelage of Charlie.

The 1980s were times when Britain had not seen its own black professional champions at almost any weight class Leon is the target of racist taunts during each of his fights. An agile, powerful Leon — who seems a bit like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard — prevails. Everyone’s past catches up with them, as they rise to the top. The success story becomes a kind of Greek tragedy.

Regardless, the most immediate appeal of “Sucker Punch” is its astonishingly spectacular fight scenes, including a violent, virulent brawl with Tommy and a climactic super-battle with Troy who has become a title contender after going to the U.S.

These scenes — staged by fight coordinator Rick Sordelet with help from consultant Gary “Kid” Stark, Jr. — are thrilling and engrossing. They are so cinematically convincing and vivid that you are tricked to believe all those punches are landing.

That’s entertainment — but the acting of Sheldon Best as the sweet-hearted, constantly conflicted Leon and Emmanuel Brown as the electric, tortured and swift Troy, well, that’s high art, as far as I’m concerned. They give the play its real punch, its emotional punch, sporting-movie star charisma and energy.

Director Leah C. Gardner keeps the hour-and-a-half production moving at a speed that allows you to overlook the fact that this isn’t particularly cutting-edge stuff but high dudgeon drama and, given its 30-year-old historical setting, drama with immediacy.

Go see “Sucker Punch.” You’ll be — one more time — floored.

It’s at the Studio’s Theatre’s Mead Theatre through April 8.

Bowen McCauley Dance Aims High (photos)

March 8, 2012

Bowen McCauley Dance performed the ambitious “Le Sacre du Printemps” (“Rite of Spring”) to glowing reviews on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The husband and wife team of Fabio and Gisele Witkowski provided the music with a lively four-hand piano arrangement of the famous Stravinsky score. Costumes were designed by Chelsey Schuller and Tony Cisek. (Photos by Jeff Malet.)
View our photos of the performance by clicking on the photo icons below.

View additional photos of this performance plus additional dances by the company by clicking here. [gallery ids="119135,119046,119038,119031,119022,119013,119005,118996,118986,119055,119063,119126,119117,119109,119101,119094,119086,119077,119070,118977,118968,118957,118858,118849,118841,119144,119150,119155,118830,119162,118868,118876,118948,118940,118930,118921,118911,118901,118893,118885,100516" nav="thumbs"]

The End of ‘Civilization’ as We Know Us

In Jason Grote’s new play “Civilization (All You Can Eat),” now getting a sharp and haunting staging at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, everybody’s hungry all of the time. Hungry, not so much for food, as for the top-heavy buffet of life and stuff that’s out there like a sparkling city-as-a-mall, but now beyond the reach of our burdensome absurdly high-interest credit cards

The characters—the humans in any case—in “Civilization” are leading lives built on dreams that have morphed into settle-for-it-reality. A respected college professor and intellectual now travels the inspirational talk circuit, promoting corporate solutions in a time of chaos. A middle-class mom struggles to keep her home, the love of her addled daughter and her sad sanity. A wanna-be-filmmaker becomes somewhat famous for making a Twix commercial that goes viral. Would-be actors strive to stay alive—one doing voice overs for Japanese sexual computer games, the other doing standup after getting fired from the commercial. A young girl tries to help her mom make the mortgage by doing a home-made porno video with her boyfriend.

And so on: all of these peoples are barely hanging on or seeing their lives alter inexorably in the time of our troubles, the beginning of the great recession and the squandered hopes of the Obama election.

Actually, there’s one character whose hunger and hopes are insatiable and undeniable—that would be Big Hog, a pig who escapes the food chain treadmill he is on by acquiring a greedy, fragmented human consciousness. What he wants is food and knowledge, and he wants to rise above himself to a state of man as striver. He gobbles up rabbits, pop culture tidbits, junk food and junk news and know-how. He’s the ominiverous beast in our midst.

Sarah Marshall, the gifted Washington actress who once played a dog in a play called “Sylvia” and played her with gusto and believability, channels Big Hog on his journey through mayhem, madness, murder and mud, until he scales the heights of becoming a mysterious business tycoon—could be a software genius, could be Trump, could be what he is which is big hog, sitting down to an expensive dinner with the film-maker and consuming the old-fashioned way.

Big Hog is frightening, but the plight of the characters as they stumble connected and disconnected, frayed and clueless is pretty scary, too. There’s nothing quite so uneasy as the dinner which features the film-maker, her husband and woman—an out-of-it drowning honorary member of the margilanized class.

Grote energizes his play like Robert Altman, the late film director of “Mash” and “Nashville” fame, a style in which the periphery noise and talk is both intrusive and instructive to what’s happening with the central characters. You can do that just by looking around when you’re experiencing Grote’s play: I saw people who had taken advantage of Woolly’s promotional materials (pig snouts you can wear) and so on, on their cellphones keep up with Big East basketball while snorting like Big Hog. That seems to be the point here—all of the characters are weighed down by their struggling, by their connections to each other, by their burdens, by the dilution of their dreams. Those dreams, like their bank accounts, have become thin and their voices tinny. They’re living under a sad, gloomy cloud of history which keeps right on raining and thundering, the wind blowing, the wolf at the door.

Woolly Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz has staged this fragmented play with style and energy, you never get bogged down although there are enough opportunities. A talented cast — especially Naomi Jacobson as the struggling mother, Jenna Sokolowski, looking for love and an acting part in all the wrong places, Daniel Escobar doing standup and especially the affecting Casie Platt as Jade, the young girl just trying to help — makes connections to us, which important to us.

But it is Big Hog who makes the biggest impression. It’s best perhaps not to think about him. He’s a feral “Babe,” who feels he has achieved a kind of communion with us. Maybe he has.

“Civilization” is at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through March 11.

20 Years of Environmental Films

March 7, 2012

After 20 years, Flo Stone still sounds like a kid at a party, albeit a serious kid at a serious party.

Stone, a Georgetown resident, is president and founder of the Environmental Film Festival of Washington, which will be holding its 20th anniversary festival – March 13 through March 25 – with screenings of 180 documentary films at 65 venues throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

“It’s amazing to me, it really is,” Stone said. “We started out so small, and we had no idea we’d still be doing by this time. And look at all the other festivals out there, there’s been an explosion.”

Stone came to Washington and Georgetown from a job at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, working in programming. In New York, she had organized a Margaret Mead festival on the legendary anthropologist. And then, while working at the environmental group, Earthwatch, located in Georgetown, she had the idea for a film festival on the environment.

“We had 1,200 people who came,” she said. “We worked with the Smithsonian and the National Geographic Society. Now look at us.”

Since then, the festival has grown — and the whole environmental film festival movement — along with young and old people’s increased interest in all things ecological.

“The idea at the time was to have documentaries, shorts, even fiction films, that would focus on the environment, on nature, on our resources,” Stone said. “It wasn’t necessarily a political thing — nature and the natural world have always been the concern of our film-makers, not just issues and agendas.”

We live in a world where resources appear to be dwindling, where climate change and global warming are hot and cool topics and the subject of much debate. So, films about the environment inevitably have a “cause” glow about them. But the expansion of the festival, and the interests of the filmmakers indicate that it’s beyond politics, that people (some 30,000 last year) come to movies they care about and are invested in.

It places Stone, who talks with excitement and passion about this year’s festival, in the position of founder and pioneer of a kind of cinematic movement. The D.C. festival has been a model for a movement that has sprouted similar festivals all over the country. These films may not be box-office champs, but their contents and effects linger. They stay in people’s consciousness, they float about your dreams (and nightmares), they get talked about, they generate passions. And they’re pretty good movies to boot.

“I suppose that does make me a pioneer,” she said. “But what I’m proud of is the impact of the festival, the fact that it has lasted and will go on.”

You want to see how big the festival has become? Check out these numbers for this year’s festival: 180 documentary, narrative, animated, archival, experimental and children’s films from 42 countries. Ninety-three of the films are world premieres. This is a body-contact festival: 75 filmmakers and 115 special guests will attend for discussions, panels and workshops.

Chief among them is Ken Burns, the prolific and expansive director, who’s probably the most high-profile maker of documentaries in the world, with his hugely successful PBS television series on everything from baseball to the Civil War, our national parks, Mark Twain, jazz, World War II and Prohibition. He’ll be here to preview clips of his new film, “The Dust Bowl.” In addition, Academy-Award nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker will be here for a retrospective of her films, including her newest, “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.”

Films are always selected to fulfill the festival mission of providing fresh perspectives on environmental issues facing our planet. This year, the key relationship between health and the environment will be a special festival theme.

A film bound to be a visual delight is the U.S. premiere of “La Cle des Champs” (“The Field of Enchantment”), by the directors of the award-winning “Microcosmos,” which will highlight the wonders of nature through close-up photography.

Another promising treat could be filmmaker Perry Miller Adato’s film, “Paris: The Luminous Years”—shades of “The Artist” and “Hugo”?

Lest this all sounds a little light, consider the topics being handled by festival entries and films: the meaning of the organic food label, the disastrous introduction of cane toads into Australia, the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan, the future of the electric car, the story of eco-pirate Paul Watson, the dangers of nuclear power, climate change and how rising sea levels have threatened the survival of low-lying Pacific Islands. Further topics include the health and economic effects of the BP oil spill, the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the fight over wind farming, and creating healthy habitats for humans.

Films will be shown at 65 venues in the D.C. area, including museums, cultural institutions, libraries and embassies, as well as the AFI Theater in Silver Spring and the National Zoo. Most screenings, as since the festival’s beginning, are free. You can probably thank Flo Stone for that, too.

For a complete list of events, screenings and times, visit [gallery ids="100520,119182" nav="thumbs"]

“Cosi fan tutte”

March 5, 2012

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” is a tricky bit of masterwork. Plot-wise, the 1790 opera plays like a comedy, a kind of 1700s rom-com by way of Shakespearean comedy,clueless, frivolous couples playing games that turn out to have soul-searing consequences. Music-wise, Mozart indicates otherwise, there’s a depth, lyricism and richness to the music that belies the seeming shallowness of the opera’s protagonists. But then, that’s Wolfgang, never letting an audience slide into mere buttery bliss.

The Washington National Opera production, now at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, directed by Jonathan Miller, is richly entertaining and rewarding, but also as unpredictable as romance itself.

Miller, who also designed the sets and costumes, tries to tackle this seeming contradiction in a most immediate way by contemporizing the setting, generally and universally in a more modern frame, and specifically, in what is supposed to be modern Washington, D.C. and beltway culture.

The result—in terms of Miller’s concept—is a mixed bag. The beautiful, contemporary sets contemporize in a general way, providing an immediacy of the here and now, a vaguely modern setting for the wildly beating human heard counting up its bruises. The D.C. connection lies in reading the super-titles where you can find references to locations—where are these guys from? Manassas, McLean, Adams Morgan—or latte. These serve up some easy laughs for the locals, but doesn’t make it a D.C. setting in time or space

“Cosi fan tutte” in this way becomes not so much a laugh riot, as a moving rueful, romantic comedy of errors, thanks to Mozart’s music , the conductor Auguin and the superb cast, especially soprano Elizabeth Futral and baritones Teddy Tahu Rhodes and William Shimmell.

Shimmell performs Don Alfonso, a insistently cynical friend of two young military types, Ferrando (tenor Joel Prieto) and Guglielmo (Rhodes) who are engaged to sisters Dorabella (Renato Pokupic) and Fiordiligi (Futral). While holding forth on his belligerently held belief in the faithlessness of women. Don Alfonso, a dark, charming, elegant man of experience straight out of Fellini, persuades the two self-assured young men to participate in an elaborate game of impersonation in which their fiancées will betray them to prove his point. No way, Alfonso, say the swains, so cocksure in their loyalty of their lovers, and so confident in how their bright future will proceed.
In the game, the two men are marched off to war (in camouflage uniform and with the press in tow), and then return, unrecognized, as rather ragged biker-hippie types who look Wayne’s World chic and who set about seducing each other’s fiancées.

Futral’s Fiordiligi—highlighted by an affecting , long aria in the second act—puts up the most resistance. Futral—used to holding a stage by herself for long periods by way of her frequent performances as Violetta in “La Traviata”—makes us see that something more than a trivial game is at stake here, there’s real passion, frustration and conflicted feeling here.

Often, in the course of things, the characters join forces in soaring singing that’s anything but frivolous—tenor, sopranos and baritones, opposing sounds, opposing motives, but all in tandem. Such occasions have real emotional power with a lingering effect on the audience.

Don Alfonso, you suspect, is a kind of Giovanni. He’s performed with bitter elegance by Shimmel. His is the powerful, seductive, insistent voice of experience and he remains alone on the stage when all is said and sung.

The Enduring Influence of Eugene O’Neill

February 23, 2012

“He was America’s greatest playwright. He was the writer who influenced everyone who came after. He plumbed the deepest mysteries we encounter in life. He wrote about the darkest moments in our lives.”

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith was talking about none other than Eugene O’Neill, who, with probably not too much argument from anyone, was and perhaps remains our finest master of theater and literature, exploding with a rich and troubled career of the kind of scope and ambition this country had not seen before.

O’Neill is the subject of a two-month, far-ranging in venues and events homage and festival, an homage and celebration of O’Neill’s work and lasting influence through performance, discussion, readings — and sometimes events not entirely easy to categorize.

“It’s also a great opportunity to initiate collaborative projects with other theaters or with our universities. Sometimes, that’s become an increasingly effective creative force in the city and become a characteristic part of this city’s culture,” Smith said.

The festival is spearheaded by three full-length productions, two at Arena Stage and the third at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. In addition, there will be 20 readings, workshops, radio plays, lectures, panels, presentations and art exhibits throughout the Mead Center, and a number of diverse partnering groups, organizations and institutions, among them the Al Hirschfeld Foundation, the Capital Yacht Club, Georgetown University, George Washington University, the New York Neo-
Futurists, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Taffety Punk and the University of Maryland.

“At Arena, we’ve had similar festivals for Arthur Miller several years ago and for Edward Albee last year,” Smith said. “I would think it’s about time we honored O’Neill in a similar way.”

It is easy enough to see O’Neill who was born in the last part of the 19th century as a kind of progenitor in the middle of the 20th century and father of modern American Theater, and it is not too crazy to compare him to non-American geniuses like Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen and Chekhov.

The three plays being performed offer ready-made examples of the O’Neill oeuvre: there is “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at Arena’s Kreeger Theater, the long, classic and hypnotizing family epic, loosely based on the travails of his own family; there is “Strange Interlude,” one of the less seen works because of both its epic and poetic nature, and “Ah, Wilderness!,” the 1930s play about small-town American life, and often seen as O’Neill light, as in light-hearted, fueled by an unusual amount of optimism, a play which makes the similar “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder look downright bleak.

Smith, who has directed productions of such O’Neill plays as “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and a brilliant “Anna Christie” at Arena, sees “Ah, Wilderness!” which in the distant future from its opening morphed into a musical starring Jackie Gleason and called “Take Me Along,” as evidence of O’Neill’s Irish humor, although some of the great, ambitious and/or autobiographical plays like “Long Day’s” and “The Iceman Cometh” are scarcely laugh-filled. While Arena is the major force and organizer behind the festival, Smith herself did not direct any of the three plays.

“O’Neill looked at the darkest part of himself and his family and America,” Smith said. “He influenced everyone that was a serious playwright, from Williams to Miller and so on.”

The festival runs from March 9 to May 6, while “Ah Wilderness!” is probably the official kickoff event in full flower, opening March 9 and running through April 8. The play is a kind of coming-of-age story at its heart, portraying the Connecticut Miller family during plans for a Fourth of July celebration, and features a group of Washington’s outstanding actors, including Nancy Robinette, Rick Foucheux and the teenaged June Schreiner who made such a splash in Arena’s Oklahoma. Long-time Arena favorite Kyle Donnelly will direct.

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” directed by Robin Phillips will run at the Kreeger Theater, March 30 through May 6, as the Tyrone Family battles each other and the travails of money and ambition.

Shakespeare Theater Company Artist Director Michael Kahn tackles one of O’Neill’s most difficult plays in his production of “Strange Interlude” which spans two decades. It was hugely controversial in its time (a1920 debut) and then became a smash hit, a hugely dramatic modern American tragedy. (March 27 through April 29)
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In addition to current offerings as well as the O’Neill Festival with all of its main attractions and special events, the spring leading up to summer offers a treasure trove of new and old plays all over the region. Here’s a look at some of the more alluring and interesting, as well as entertaining, bets coming soon to a theater near you:

“Brother Russia” — How about a rock musical about Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the mad monk and evil influence on the Czar of all the Russias who helped fuel the Russian Revolution? Signature Theater artistic director Eric Schaeffer, never one to shy from a challenge, takes a show being put on by a rag-tag Russian troupe putting on rocking versions of classic works by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But this time they’re featuring their star, impresario and inspiration, Rasputin, the mad monk. With music by Dana Rowe and lyrics by John Dempsey — the creators of popular Signature hits “The Fix” and “The Witches of Eastwick” — Schaeffer is directing another world premiere. John Lescault will star as the infamous rocking monk. “Brother Russia” will be performed at Signature’s MAX Theatre March 6 through April 15.

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” — I know, I know, sounds sappy, but we say it isn’t so. Who doesn’t like Charlie Brown and Peanuts and Lucy and the rest of the Peanuts gang? An enduring musical returns to the Olney Theatre Center this week and runs through March 18.

“1776” — A must-see, not only for all those conservative folks in the country who claim first-name friendship and knowledge of our founding fathers but for those of us who don’t. All factions are bound to be surprised to find that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and others were: human, very. This musical, a classic often done but always fresh, centers around the meeting of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, as they decided whether to leave the British Empire, while Jefferson, missing his wife badly, writes the DOI. Great, adult, political and musical fun, this production, directed by Peter Flynn with an assist from Jennifer Nelson, opens at Ford’s Theater March 9 and runs through May 19.

“Crown of Shadows, the Wake of Odysseus” — a world premiere by Jason Gray Platt, fits nicely into the literary bent evident lately at the Round House Theater in Bethesda where Blake Robinson will be directing this play, a modern version of what happens to the family Ulysses left behind while on his long journey home from Troy. April 11-May 6.

“New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656” —Despite the long title, this is a compelling piece of theater. Ask anyone who saw it at Theater J in 2010. The play, by the versatile and eclectic playwright-director David Ives (“Venus in Fur”), is directed by Jerry Skidmore and stars Alexander Strain as Spinoza, the ardent 16th-century proponent of rationalism and brilliant absolute philosopher who is facing excommunication from his Jewish community. The production is accompanied by discussion, a companion play-in-progress called “Spinoza’s Solitude.” It also features Michael Tolaydo repeating his Helen Hayes-nominated performance as Spinoza’s mentor. February 29-April 1

“Petrushka” and Basil Twist — World famous, stylish, edgy and outrageous puppeteer Basil Twist is having quite a time for himself in Washington. Twist, regarded by the Creative Capital Foundation as one of the most “ambitious and imaginative” puppeteers in the world, is re-imagining “Petrushka,” the Ballet Russe production about a clown, a Moor and a ballerina at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, March 16 through 25. Then, from April 4 through May 6, Twist teams up with cabaret star Joey Arias to tell the story of a drag queen in the Garden of Eden at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre — “Arias With a Twist.” Oh, and just for fun, Twist will perform in a 1,000-gallon water tank at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Kogod Theatre March 29-31.

“Sucker Punch” — This one could provide a knockout hit for Studio Theater. It’s a new play by Roy Williams, deemed one of Britain’s finest playwrights by the Guardian newspaper, and it’s a first production for one of Williams’s plays in the United States, directed by Leah C. Gardiner with fight choreography by Peter Pucci. This U.S. premiere is about two black brothers trying to box their way to world fame in the Margaret Thatcher era. February 29-April 8.

The Tamings of the Shrews — There are not one but two “Taming of the Shrews” on tap, one in which Katarina gets to yell, and one in which she does not. Synetic Theatre, the stars from Georgia will perform its wordless version at the Lansburgh Theatre, March 29-April 22, and the Folger Theatre concludes its season with the more traditional — words by William Shakespeare — version, May 1-June 10.

“Spamalot” — The nutty knights of Camelot return to Washington in their slightly altered (via Monty Python) forms in Monty Python’s “Spamalot” the 2005 Best Musical of 2005. March 13-18 at the Warner.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”—Judith Viorst’s much beloved children’s and family book becomes a highlight of Adventure Theater’s 60th anniversary season, directed by Gail Humphries with music by Shelly Markham and starring Broadway’s Sandy Bainum. March 2-April 9.
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