At 11 years old and in the wake of his parents’ bitter divorce, Manhattan native Stephen Sondheim was shuffled off to live with his mother in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. This dark period in the burgeoning musician’s life changed course when he befriended Jimmy Hammerstein, the son of the legendary Broadway composer (and soon-to-be mentor to Sondheim), Oscar, and a fellow cinephile. The two spent their summers watching every movie that came to town, and soon, Sondheim’s dramaturgical sensibility was inseparable from cinematic language: flashbacks and narration, cutaways and fade-ins and fade-outs, perspective and distortion. Broadway had yet to integrate this vocabulary into its repertoire, but these formative artistic experiences armed Sondheim with many of the tools that later helped him marry filmic techniques with musical theater.
When I was 15 years old, I shimmied into a sequined leotard and balanced a feathered headpiece on my head for my high school production of George M! I distinctly recall claiming a private changing space in our closet-sized dressing room during our first dress rehearsal, only to have it dawn on me that there was no point in being modest: I’d be wearing virtually nothing onstage, so why bother hiding now?
The works of Ayad Akhtar walk a fine line between irony and stereotype; they are swan songs to the Islamic spirit, promoting audiences to examine preconceptions while not shying away from dark, uncomfortable political themes. If in the wrong hands, this kind of subversion can go terribly wrong, underscoring rather than subverting Islamic stereotypes. For the most part, TheaterWorks’ production of The Invisible Hand, directed by David Kennedy, navigates this tightrope walk with impressive poise.
"As Long As Audiences Will Pay to See Me": A cabaret tribute to Broadway’s “feminist” past and present
Thank you, thank you for being here tonight. I’m so humbled to see so many beautiful faces together! It is lovely to be a woman, isn’t it? That last number is from one of my all-time feminist favorites: Little Shop of Horrors. What an empowering hoot! I so appreciate everyone coming out tonight, especially the women in this audience who put down their pot roasts and babies to celebrate Broadway’s illustrious and ongoing history of Feminist Musicals! As I’m sure you all know, 2018 has been a difficult year for women, so my friend SKEEZY PIANIST here and I thought we should thank Broadway for stepping it up in the wake of the #MeToo movement by presenting a triad of envelope-pushing revivals.
“Complicit” was Dictionary.com’s 2017 Word of the Year – and if the 2018-19 musical lineup continues as planned, it may define Broadway’s upcoming season as well. It’s a trifecta of shows featuring so much gaslighting, outdated gender norms, and straight up domestic abuse that it feels like a season straight out of 1960, at best.
I wish I could leave this review on this positive note about the eternal pluckiness of community theater, but I would be remiss not to comment on the bewilderingly out-of-touch nature of the musical’s book. Despite a relatively recent Broadway run, Sister Act: The Musical does not prove the inoffensive if commercialized romp I anticipated. The film version largely ignores the racial tension inherent in its plot (Bette Midler was originally slated for Whoopi Goldberg’s leading role, so the screenplay certainly didn’t have that slant in mind originally), and despite slipping heavily into the “Magical Negro” trope, Goldberg is given so much agency that the story feels largely harmless and fun.
A Cautionary Tale of the Forgivable White Male Genius – or, What the Theatre Community Can Learn from Hugh Hefner, 2017
Let’s examine the biography of a man who lived and breathed entertainment – a man who, by so many standards for so many years, was branded a genius. This man redefined how and what kinds of stories his community told, and was the brilliant mind behind that was credited with discovering and nurturing the careers of numerous critically lauded artists. He created an empire of not only art, but of people: he curated a personal community of followers who were brainwashed or threatened into degradation and violence for the sake of their craft. More than one woman went public about the terrifying environment that his company enforced via media exposes, nightmarish practices that went ignored for decades because of the sheer amount of power this man wielded over his artistic community.
Arthur Miller is a bit of a trickster. His plays are quintessentially mid-century American, such that it’s easy to fall into the trap of framing them in a world that is uninterestingly grounded in realism and historical accuracy. With a few interesting and heartfelt exceptions, Westport Community Theater’s production of A View From the Bridge (playing through October 1) falls squarely into this trap.
"Evita’s colonialist roots are easy to espy, and given what is now the third in a series of recent whitewashing controversies over regional theatres’ casting practices, I find it apt to dissect precisely what makes this musical so thorny. Like so many of Broadway’s most iconic showstoppers – The King and I, Miss Saigon, and Carousel, to name a very select few – Evita has an undeniably problematic history, particularly where gender, cultural appropriation, and white-washing are concerned. And like the aforementioned musicals, Evita keeps popping back into our consciousness, just as the earworm that is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” has a nasty habit of burrowing its way into your brain days after listening to the record."
"Perhaps the best place to preface a critique of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s all-male Taming of the Shrew is the end: Katherina (Kate) delivers her final speech with unflinching honesty, bemoaning that women “seek for rule, supremacy, and sway/ Whey they are bound to serve, love, and obey.” She implores Bianca and the Widow to join her, creating a silent, encapsulating snapshot: three women prostrate before their husbands, hands extended to be crushed beneath their companions’ feet. Regardless of the corseted actors’ gender identities, Shakespeare Theatre Company leaves audiences with a searing image of female submission to men—about as traditional an interpretation of Shakespeare’s play as one can find."
"In true dramaturgical fashion, I came to my first Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) conference prepared, poring over the conference schedule weeks in advance, scribbling questions in the margins of my notebook, even reaching out to previous attendees for advice. Out of all the insight I received in the weeks before I flew to Boston, the most valuable advice came from my undergraduate mentor and advisor: 'Spend time with the young 'ins like yourself. They will be your peer group and cohort moving forward and it is important to be friendly yet competitive with them."
DC Theatre Scene
It Will All Make Sense in the Morning, Capital Fringe Festival 2016
"It Will All Make Sense in the Morning opens like a nightmare, with a stunning projection of an ominous tree, followed by an off-kilter conversation about the perils of yard work that awakens a gurgling offstage worm monster. Although this opening promises 70 minutes of quick and uneasy oddities, however, the production never wholly taps into the terrors of the sleeping mind."
Complexity, Capital Fringe Festival 2016
"Complexity: A One Woman Show opens with as time-tested and predictable a setup as a musical can muster: a naively bright-eyed woman moving into her first New York apartment. It’s a narrative we’ve seen time and again, from Sex and the City to Avenue Q, and it takes a particularly crafty, nuanced humorist to rework this structure into something new. Complexity skirts with originality and sophisticated humor, but doesn’t quite manage to break free from the storytelling conventions that its genre dictates."
In a Day of Dreary, Capital Fringe Festival 2016
"Sometimes, if you’re lucky, theatre lulls you into a sense of silly, charming fun—then warps your brain, makes you squirm, and spits you out in less than 40 minutes. In a Day of Dreary is one of those plays. This is not to say this creative blend of movement, music, and masks is mind-blowing exactly. In fact, it follows a surprisingly conventional day-in-the-life narrative about a surprisingly conventional young woman, the titular Dreary. What is surprising about the production is the way surreality seeps into the corners of Dreary’s humdrum life, accosting her lackluster birthday with nightmarishly theatrical embodiments of her unconscious."
Cracked, Capital Fringe Festival 2016
"The tagline for Cracked is “Love. Faith. Motorcycles,” but bikers be warned: this is not the wind-in-your-hair anthem that you might expect. Nor is it a biographical examination of masculinity and fatherhood, as playwright and director Marcus Salley attests in his program note. Cracked is not what The Rude Mechanicals of Fredericksburg describe—but what the play actually is may still be worth watching."
Antigone, Capital Fringe Festival 2014
"This uneven opening foreshadows the rest of the movement-based retelling of Sophocles’ classic Greek text. The artists clearly put forth big, creative ideas, but as a whole, the concepts and performances fail to create a single cohesive narrative."
Bethesda, Capital Fringe Festival 2014
"With a wife devoted to quinoa and Whole Foods, a husband who loves poking jabs at the Washington Post, and two kids who hate looking up from their cell phone screens, Bethesda pays plenty of homage to its titular Maryland locale. But Jennie Berman Eng’s dark comedy isn’t a big-picture commentary on a place and time; it is a more microscopic story, a close-up examination of a family fraying at the edges."
Coriolanus, Capital Fringe Festival 2014
"Set in a very particular world with a very particular social and political structure, Coriolanus is not a play that lends itself particularly well to a 'concept.' As director Elena Velasco proves with Elysian Theatre’s production, however, sometimes all it takes is a few strong casting choices to reinvigorate an otherwise straightforward Shakespearean tragedy."
TAME., Capital Fringe Festival 2014
"Sylvia Plath, the quintessential female voice in the face of 20th century patriarchy, serves as a chilling foil to the heroine in Jonelle Walker’s TAME. The tragic poet’s voice fills the space during scene changes, reminding the audience of the constrictive world in which her onstage counterpart is struggling to survive."
R&J: Starcross’d Death Match, Capital Fringe Festival 2014
"They might not be sporting doublets and hose, and modern day expletives might weave their way into Shakespeare’s elegant verse now and then, but the performers of R+J: Star Cross’d Death Match are using nontraditional means to achieve a very traditional end. They are performing Shakespeare the way it was originally intended: raunchily, unapologetically, and with plenty of booze."
"The lasting image from Nina Sharp’s senior directing thesis PTERODACTYLS was not a pterodactyl at all; it was the skeleton of a T-Rex alone in a ring of light and the ruins of a once animated, albeit dysfunctional, household. The contradiction between the title and the dinosaur onstage may have baffled some audience members, but Sharp wasn’t going for clarity so much as resonance."
"Love was in the air in Decker Theater this weekend. “The Voice of the Turtle,” a 1940s lighthearted comedy by John William Van Druten, brought New York romance to Washington College under the direction and design of drama Professor Jason Rubin."
"A tree, some buckets of sand, a ramshackle cot and a Nativity set were all that greeted audiences when they walked into Tawes Theater for Tara Bancroft’s thesis production of “Tshepang: The Third Testament.”"
"In 1948, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published reporter Ray Sprigle’s recounts of his month-long journey as a black man traveling through the Jim Crowe South. Sixty-three years later, drama lecturer and playwright Dr. Robert Earl Price’s poetic stage retelling of Sprigle’s story made its world premiere on the Washington College stage."
"This weekend, the Decker Theatre will be host to a hypochondriac father, singing shepherdess, scheming apothecary, devious physician, saucy maid, and four ballerinas. Simply put, Moliere’s 17th century French play, “The Imaginary Invalid,” is far from boring."
"Glitzy courtesans, bumbling old men, and dreamy-eyed lovers will be singing and twirling their way across a vibrant stage this weekend in a rib-cracking production of Stephen Sondheim’s one and only “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”"