The cover of The Atlanta Issue of The Dramatist
DC: The New Play Landscape
Silhouettes of actors waiting in stage wings

This winter the new play landscape in Washington, DC belonged to the large companies and a handful of high-profile productions such as Change Agent, Craig Lucas’s new play; AD16, a new musical comedy about Mary Magdeline by Bekah Brunstetter and Cinco Paul; and Once Upon a One More Time, the Broadway-bound musical by Jon Hartmere based on the music of Britney Spears.

Once Upon a One More Time received its world premiere at The Shakespeare Theatre in December (running Nov 30 – Jan 9). The musical comedy tells the story of classic fairytale princesses finding feminism and a life beyond bird-made dresses and true love’s kiss. And yes, “Oops!… I Did It Again” is one of the numbers in this show (among many other crowd-pleasing repurposed Britney Spears hits).

Two important American playwrights received world premieres at large theatres in Washington, and both told fictional accounts of important moments in American history. Change Agent, Craig Lucas’s new play, premiered at Arena Stage in January (January 21–March 6). The play details a provocative fictional account of the powerful influence painter Mary Pinchot Meyer had on major US policy during an affair with John F. Kennedy. My Lord, What a Night by Deborah Brevoort premiered at Ford’s Theatre earlier in the fall (October 1–24), telling the story of the night when contralto Marian Anderson stayed in the home of Albert Einstein in Princeton after being denied lodging at the Nassau Inn because she was Black. In this beautiful and prescient play, the two form a profound friendship based on their love for music and their commitment to human rights.

Olney Theatre premiered the new musical A.D. 16 by Bekah Brunstetter (This is Us) and Cinco Paul (Despicable Me and Schmigadoon) in February. The rock and R&B musical comedy tells the story of a teenage Mary Magdalene who falls in love with the carpenter’s son next door who happens to be a kid named Jesus. 

The smaller companies in Washington continued to innovate new work in the face of a continued pandemic with projects such as 4615 Theatre’s theatrical video game Dark City created by Gregory Keng Strasser, Rorschach Theatre’s city-wide season-long immersive experience Chemical Exile, and Mosaic Theater’s live streaming production of Dear Mapel performed and written by DC playwright Psalmayene 24, a preeminent voice in hip hop theatre and Mosaic’s Andrew W. Mellon playwright-in-residence.

New American plays are driving the return to live theatre in Washington, DC as theatre companies big and small continue to innovate and speak to a changing cultural landscape.

Randy Baker
Randy Baker

is a playwright, director, and the co-Artistic Director of Rorschach Theatre in Washington DC. In addition to Rorschach where he has directed numerous shows, he has directed at Source Theatre, WSC Avant Bard, Pointless Theatre, American University, Catholic University, Georgetown University, Imagination Stage, among others. Recent plays he has written include the productions of Forgotten Kingdoms at Rorschach Theatre, Rashômon at American University, and Wolves in the Lion City at Theatre Lab as well as workshops of The Burning Road at Arena Stage and Monastery at Theater J.