Friday, September 17, 2010

Something You Didn't Do


Performance:Something You Did
Theater
: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops
: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
Genre
: Political Drama
Dates
: Aug 28-Oct 3
Cost:
All 35 and under tickets are $15.
Rating:
2.5 out of 5 Starving Artists

I really wanted to like Something You Did, the season opener at Theater J. On paper, it sounds really interesting. The play, by Willy Holtzman, fictionalizes from real life events to tell the story of an anti-war activist, who was put in jail in the early ‘80s after one of her protests took the life of a police officer. Now, in present day she is up for appeal and trying to decide how she feels about her crime as she confronts her victims and her comrades, some of whom have switched sides. The story draws liberally from the lives of Kathy Boudin and David Horowitz, both members of the Weather Underground movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Boudin ended up in jail for their violent protests, while Horowitz remained free and became an outspoken neo-conservative. The playwright, Holtzman, imagines these two personalities actually getting the chance to confront each other and the people they have become, 20 years later. See what I mean. It’s got all the trappings of a play I’d like. History, relevance, interesting characters, and an opportunity for change to happen in a crucible. And yet, I left feeling that the show was mostly a dud. I guess the fact that it worked better on paper is a sign that I would have liked the book better (if only it had been a book!)

And thus I’m torn about Something You Did. On the one hand, I feel like it has, at its core, a kernel of an idea that is quite interesting to explore. But on the other hand, I’m not sure these ideas translate well to the stage. Perhaps they would work better in a book, or film, but on stage they get a bit lost. For me, theater is most powerful when it is about people, and emotion, and most of all change. The problem with this play is that people change a lot, but it has all happened before the play starts. And this would be ok if we got to see how people reacted to these changes or how they were affected by them. Instead, in this play, people just sort of talk about these changes. It all seems quite cerebral (and not in the good way) and straight forward (and not in the good way). In movie we might get to really peer into their eyes, and see how they looked at each other. And in a book we would have gotten to read more about their history, and their inner struggles. But on stage, when all we have to go on is what they say and how they behave, everything felt quite flat.

This situation was not helped by the acting, which I felt was almost universally lacking. Each character needed a little more something. Deborah Hazlettt, who plays Allison the imprisoned activist, needed to either be more indignant and fiery or more withdrawn and introspective. Norman Aronivic needed to be more wise and charming as her lawyer. Aakhu Freeman could have been angrier and more impassioned as the daughter of Allison’s victim. And Rick Roucheux needed to be a lot more pompous and emboldened as the Horowitz character. Everybody oscillated between a 4 and a 7 on the “intensity scale” and I was always waiting for someone to turn it up to 11. Not for the whole time, but for a few moments it would have been nice. Lolita-Marie was probably my favorite actor as Uneeq, the prison guard, but she was there more as a plot device to move the conversation along than as a real character, so that doesn’t count either.

So it’s hard for me to tell if my complaints were mostly about the play or mostly about the production. The two are so interdependent that I won’t be able to tell. And more than likely it was a combination of the two. I’m sure that they influenced each other in some sort of self-negating prophecy. Now I’ve just read back through my review thus far and it sounds like I hated the show. I certainly did not. I just didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped to. I was disappointed and, worse than that, bored. I’m not saying don’t see it, and I know that other people have liked it a lot, but I am saying you may be better off seeing something else. But if they ever make this play into a movie or a book, definitely check it out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shakespeare in the... err... theater, but still free


Performance: Free For All: Twelfth Night
Theater: The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW
Metro: Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
Genre: Comedy
Cost: FREE! (see below for details on the lottery)
Dates: Through Sept. 5
Rating: 5/5 Starving Artists


There are few things more enjoyable than seeing Shakespeare performed excellently.  Seeing Shakespeare performed excellent for free may be one of them.

Every summer for the past 20 years, DC’s Shakespeare Theater Company has offered a free show to the DC community in their annual Free For All.  And this year’s offering is Twelfth Night.  What’s exceptional about this program is that they offer their highest caliber work to the community. Although you might expect a no-frills production, they don’t skimp in any noticeable way.  They present their usual beautiful set, fantastic directing, and stunning acting, but they do it free of charge.

Twelfth Night is brilliantly acted across the board. Each performer is excellent, with standout performances by Chuck Cooper, Tom Story, and Nancy Robinette as Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Maria respectively.  Everyone did a great job of connecting the audience to the material.  The show was quite funny and the actors struck a nice balance between bringing out the humor in the script and creating a few hysterical moments of their own.  But the show was completely stolen by Floyd King as the Jester, Feste.  His report with the audience, his knowing looks, and his impeccable timing would have been worth the price of admission even if there was a price of admission.  We saw King at Studio in The Seafarer in 2009 and back then I described him as “stirring”.  Here he’s not so much stirring as just plain brilliant.  As the Jester, King gets to be hysterically funny throughout, but he also gets to be the one character who gets it, the one who knows, like the audience, that he’s surrounded by fools.  And the connection that he creates with us as a result creates that special kind of theatrical magic that is electrifying.  If you’re skeptical about seeing Twelfth Night, see it for King.  

It’s easy to see why STC chose Twelfth Night for this year’s freebee.  It’s easy to get into.  It’s one of the funnier of the Bards Comedies, and with only one set of twins, it’s easy enough to follow, no matter your Shakespeare proficiency.  The cast does a wonderful job of opening the play up to the audience and keeping them involved.  The set and costumes are beautifully simple, and simply beautiful.  There’s one week left to see this show for nothing, and it’s not to be missed.  How fun to be able to give out a 5/5 Starving Artists this early in the season.  And you don’t have to go hunting for deals, because this one is free for all!

VERY IMPORTANT INFO FOR GETTING TIX:

The way the lottery works: Instead of having potential theater patrons stand in line for hours in the DC summer heat, The Shakespeare Theater Company has created a lottery system. You can enter the lottery online in a matter of seconds by creating an account with STC. For evening performances, you need to enter the lottery between midnight and 1pm on the day of the performance. For matinees, you need to enter the day before.

STC will send you an email letting you know if you have won tickets. If you have, congratulations, you can pick up your tickets between 4pm (or 11:30am) and 30 min before the start of the show. However, if you have not won tickets, you still try to get tickets via the standby line. All of the tickets that are not pick-up by winners 30 minutes before the show are released to the standby line. On the night we went, there were tons of empty seats so you should certainly still be able to get in.

What All the Buzz is About

Performance: In the Next Room or (AKA)The Vibrator Play
Theater: Woolly Mammoth Theater,641 D St, NW
Metro: Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
Genre:
Sex-omedy
Cost:
Regular price tix range from $30 to $65, Under 25 tix are $15, Rush tix (sold 2 hours before showtime) are also $15
Dates:
August 23 – September 19
Rating: 4/5 Starving Artists

When you go to a play called The Vibrator Play you know you’re going to have a lot to talk about afterwards. There’s really no way a play about the invention of the vibrator isn’t going to spark some intriguing dialogue. And Woolly Mammoth’s new production of Sarah Ruhl’s hot new play (fresh off its 2009 run at the Lincoln Center in New York) does just this. In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play leaves you talking about enlightenment and science and (of course) sexuality. It inspires some fascinating conversations, and I think this, more than anything, is the best part of the play.

The play is a historical drama set in the late 1800s about the invention of a new medical device, designed to relieve woman of an affliction known as “hysteria” (what we would call in a modern woman being “anxious,” “stressed out,” or just plain “horny”) by giving her a “paroxysm” (in modern parlance, and orgasm.) As hard as this is for modern Americans to believe, this process was, at least in its inception, in no way sexual. This was a treatment performed by a doctor with a medical instrument. It’s just like getting your blood pressure checked or having your tonsils looked at. But as the women in the play discover, this particular procedure is not that similar to having your BP measured or your tonsils examined. There is something deeper, more personal, more sacred going on. This dawning realization that sexuality is a natural human condition provides the play with its driving force. The linking of this paroxysm to sex and sexuality is a revelatory experience for each of the women in the play.

The play is well written and well acted. It’s funny without ever being vulgar, and the occasional double entendre keeps the play interesting at its slower moments. It gets, at times, riotous laughter from the audience, but it never feels as though it’s being played for laughs. And the facial expressions on the actors when they have their paroxysms and when they hear others having one are priceless. As always, Woolly company member (and this blogger’s favorite DC actor) Sarah Marshall, steals the show with hysterical and animated facial gestures.

The play is not without a few faults. The lead actress, Katie deBuys, plays her character, Mrs. Givings, with an exceptional amount of earnestness that is usually endearing but occasionally offputting. She does from time to time feel like she’s trying a little too hard. And the staging, which relies on an imaginary wall between the living room of the house and the doctor’s office, would benefit from a little more intentionality. The wall’s presence is rarely acknowledged, so that when the actors dramatically “break through” it at the end of the play, this symbolic gesture is more confusing than powerful. But these issues are really minor when compared to the play’s strengths: humor, depth, and charm.

The play is definitely worth seeing. If you’re not put off by a few orgasms and some brief and tasteful male nudity (yes folks, only the men get naked in this one) then I think you’ll really enjoy this show. And more than that, you’ll enjoy talking about it after. I know Lady AWesome (shall we change her name to Mrs. 20something?) and I did!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quick Hit: Theater J's new show and blogger discount

Performance: Something You Did
Theater
: Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW
Metro Stops
: Dupont Circle – Red line or U Street/Cardozo-Green line. Directions here.
Genre
: Political Drama
Dates
: Aug 28-Oct 3
Cost:
All 35 and under tickets are $15.
PWYC
: Aug 29 and 30. Also, they have a $30 preview on Aug 28, but I’m not sure why anyone would go to that if they offer $30 rates for all Sunday night performances.

Blogger Special: Theater J has a new special for blog readers. Enter the code DCBLOGGER when you order tickets, and all tickets are $15 for the following nights:

Saturday, August 28, 8:00

Thursday, September 2, 7:30

Saturday, September 4, 8:00

Sunday, September 5, 3:00 AND 7:30

Monday, September 6, (Labor Day) 7:30 pm

Even if you are under 35 and would usually just use that discount, 20something and I encourage you to use the blogger discount code instead as a way to encourage Theater J to continue to offer discounts for blog readers. It’s great that they are reaching out to the community and recognizing the publicity they can get on DC blogs. Spread the word and encourage your friends to use the code and thank Theater J for offering the special.

Now about the show itself:

They say: A stellar student from a famed, leftist family, Alison Moulton (Deborah Hazlett) is serving her 30th year behind bars for an anti-war bombing that resulted in the death of a police officer. Once a member of a radical activist group much like the Weather Underground, she now spends her days volunteering in the prison library and providing legal counsel to her irreverent young prison guard Uneeq Edmunds (Lolita-Marie). The play opens only days after the death of Alison’s father, as his pugnacious law partner Arthur Rossiter (Norman Aronovic) comes to Alison with a new plan to petition for her parole. Alison, however, has a different idea of how to win the case: Over the objections of others, she's gotten in touch with Lenora Renshaw, the slain officer’s daughter (Aakuh Freeman) who has grown into a formidable woman. The encounter between the two goes badly. Alison is also visited by Eugene Biddle (Rick Foucheux), a former comrade and lover, turned neo- conservative author and media star. Biddle, who's been sent by Arthur ostensibly to help Alison appeal to a more conservative constituency, not only argues against her, but implicates a past associate who once worked on Alison's legal defense, now a public official. As the debate unfolds, secrets are revealed and battles revisited. Smear politics, ‘60s revisionism, and the desire to rejoin society form the driving, conflicting forces in this “fluid and eloquent play” (The New York Times).

We say: Theater J is offering a series of post-show discussions on various themes of the play. They have been offering these discussions for at least the past couple seasons, and this time around they definitely seem worth checking out. The topics range from religious perspectives of prison to the changes in political activism from the 1960s to now. If you have been missing the heated political discussions during the August recess and are looking for some political and philosophical discussions, Something You Did is just the play for you. 20something and I will probably check it out in order to see how Theater J is kicking off the season. Let us know when you are going, and we'll tag along.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quick Hit: The Vibrator Play

Performance: In the Next Room or (AKA) The Vibrator Play
Theater: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D St, NW
Metro: Gallery Place-green/red or Archives/Navy Memorial-Green. Directions here.
Genre:
Sex-omedy
Cost:
Regular price tix range from $30 to $65, Under 25 tix are $15, Rush tix (sold 2 hours before showtime) are also $15
Dates:
August 23 – September 19
PWYC: Aug 23 and Aug 24
We're going: Monday Aug 23.
Want to join us?

They say: At the dawn of the electrical age, a new medical device is developed to treat and pacify "hysterical" women, but it unknowingly produces a very different result. Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl, author of The Clean House and Dead Man's Cell Phone, shares this story of repressed sexuality and physical exploration with equal doses of humor and emotion.


Their upcoming season: The 2010–2011 season begins with a Vibrator and ends with Bootycandy — need we say more? It's a focused and poignant exploration of our attitudes toward gender, age, race, and sexuality in a manner that's uniquely Woolly.


We say: Now that 20something and I have officially tied the knot, we are so excited to get back into DC theater. And just in time for the 2010-2011 season! What better way to kick off the season than a Pay-What-You-Can performance at Woolly? The Vibrator Play received praise during its run in New York, so Woolly has brought it down to DC to start a season sure to provoke discussion and a little controversy. We attended their preview of the season earlier this summer and Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz said that following a season focused on issues of society and race, they decided to go all the way and focus on something a little more intimate. 20something and I are looking forward to the season and are thrilled to be back. We hope you'll join us as we return to regular blogging and theater-going

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