Washington DC 2018/2019 Season In Review by Allyson Currin
It is always such a pleasure to take an afternoon and look back over the theatre season in the nation’s capital, a season consistently so full of new plays, adaptations, musicals, devised work, theatre for young audiences…proving once again that DC is a thrilling, active hub for new work. It’s a little overwhelming to be responsible for reporting it all!
I’ll start with DC’s most intriguing playwright experiment, The Welders (full disclosure: I was a founding member). The playwrights’ collective, designed to collaboratively produce one play by each member, and then hand the entire organization off to a new cohort when that has been accomplished, is winding down its second generation’s stewardship, and a third generation of Welders has been announced. The third group of Welders’ Producing Playwrights will include Cat Frost, Farah Lawal Harris, Teshonne Powell, Sisi Reid, JR Russ and Jared Shamberger, and they will enjoy three years of leadership until they will pass the organization off to Generation 4 in 2023.
The soon-to-be-outgoing second generation of The Welders filled its 2018-19 season with the body-shifting comedy Switch, by Brett Abelman, In the Hope: A Pericles Project, part play/part ritual by Hannah Hessel Ratner, and Annalisa Dias’ iterative performance project the earth, that is sufficient with co-collaborators Mia Susan Amir and Eric Swarz. The final production of 2.0’s tenure will be Rachel Hynes’ LadyM in the summer of 2019.
Rorschach Theatre continued its tradition of fine new work, presenting two Rolling World Premieres via The National New Play Network: Reykjavik by Steve Yockey, and Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven by Reina Hardy. Also in their new play lineup was Iris Dauterman’s re-imagining of Greek mythology for our times, Sing To Me Now.
Arena Stage produced four world premieres in its season, including Dave, a musical adaptation of the movie of the same title (book by Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin, music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Nell Benjamin), and Kleptocracy, inspired by historical events and written by Kenneth Lin. JQA, written and directed by Aaron Posner, re-imagined the life of John Quincy Adams, and Jubilee, written and directed by Tazewell Thompson, is an a cappella celebration of the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers.
Mosaic Theater Company of DC was also a leader in new play development, with three world premieres and two DC premieres in its season. Last summer’s The Vagrant Trilogy, Mona Mansour’s trio of plays about displacement and dispossession, was a powerful offering, followed by SHAME 2.0 (with comments from the Populace), a workshop performance by Einat Weizman and Morad Hassad about the danger of dissident art. In rep with the DC premiere of Native Son was the world premiere companion piece Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son by DC director and hip-hop artist Psalmayene 24, which imagines an evening’s encounter between Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Mosaic’s new play offerings also include the DC premiere of my own play Sooner/Later.
Signature Theatre, via its new play development engine Sig Works, premiered two plays: Heather McDonald’s tense and lyrical Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and the world premiere commission of the new musical Blackbeard, by Dana P. Rowe and John Demsey. Theatre J got into the act with the world premiere of Trayf, a new comedy by Lindsay Joelle, and Rep Stage produced the work of one of DC’s native writers, Callie Kimball, with her play Things That Are Round. Studio Theatre produced two premieres in its season: The Remains, by Ken Urban, and P.Y.G. Or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle, by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm.
The lively small-and-scrappy theatres are enthusiastically in the mix as well: 1st Stage premiered Bob Bartlett’s beautiful new drama Swimming With Whales. Keegan Theatre produced Other Life Forms by Brandon McCoy, as well as the hip-hop play From Gumbo to Mumbo, produced with the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America, written by Drew Anderson and Dwayne Lawson-Brown. 4615 Theatre produced Joe Calarco’s Separate Rooms (and apparently they have a preference for Calarcos at 4615 because they have committed to producing Renee Calarco’s Welders project Museum 2040 next season). The Hub Theatre premiered Marc Acito’s The Secrets of the Universe (and other songs), and Nu Sass Productions delivered the Capitol Fringe offering 50 Ways to Date Your Aubrey, a solo performance written by Danny Rovin, and Gwen and Ida: The Object Is Of No Importance, by David S. Kessler. Washington Stage Guild, which often lives in the land of Shaw and early 20th century classics, ventured forward with the world premiere All Save One, by Greg Jones Ellis. Another theatre that had never done new work also dove into the new play world: Rainbow Theatre Project produced its first ever new play, In the Closet, by Siegmund Fuchs. GALA Hispanic Theatre produced the original el viego, el joven e el mar, by Irma Correa, and Flying V produced Patrick Flynn’s Sheila and Moby.
Other small theatres, regular producers of new work, continued to blaze trails in all directions. Longacre Lea produced the fascinating time-traveling conundrum about grief, The Interstellar Ghost Hour, by its artistic director Kathleen Akerly, and the female-centered company Pinky Swear Productions produced Blight, by John Bavoso. InterAct Story Theatre offered up voytto tech: a scifi fable, by Ali Oliver-Krueger and Ben Kingsland, and The Klunch produced the three-plus hour satire on white supremacy, How to Win a Race War, by Ian Allen. Creative Cauldron continued its fruitful collaboration with the composer/lyricist/bookwriting team of Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith with On Air, a story about the evolution of the radio, and Ally Theatre Company produced two new plays: The Head That Wears the Crown by Hope Villanueva, and #poolparty by first-time playwright Jennifer Mendenhall.
Adaptations featured prominently in both theatre for young audiences, and classical theatre: the innovative movement company Synetic Theatre, guided by the dynamic Paata Tsikurishvili, adapted five texts into movement performances: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Sleepy Hollow, My Father’s Dragon, Cyrano de Bergerac and Richard III. WSC Avant Bard adapted two classical pieces for the stage, resulting in Illyria, or What You Will, a fresh take on Twelfth Night by Jonelle Walker and Mitchell Hebert, and A Misanthrope, by Matt Minnicino, based on the Moliere. The Shakespeare Theatre Company, the flagship of classical performance in DC, also produced two new adaptations: The Panties, The Partner and the Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class by David Ives, and The Oresteia, a commissioned work by Ellen McLaughlin. Olney Theatre Center’s artistic director Jason Loewith adapted Mary Stuart in collaboration with his acting company, and Theater Alliance produced Klytemnestra: An Epic Slam Poem, written and performed by Dane Figueroa Edidi. Faction of Fools continued its lively tradition of commedia dell’arte with the new work The Great Commedia Hotel Murder, written and directed by Paul Reisman.
DC is lucky to have such a deep bench of programming for young audiences: Imagination Stage’s artistic director Janet Stanford adapted none other than Charles Dickens with the musical Dickens’s Davy Copperfield. Adventure Theater MTC produced two adaptations of childhood literary treasures, Tinker Bell, by Patrick Flynn, and Blueberries for Sal, written by Sandra Eskin, Michael J. Bobbitt and William Yanesh. (DC will be sorry to lose Bobbitt, who has been a shining leader in DC theatre for years, when he moves away to a new position soon.) The Kennedy Center in particular has a strong history of commissioning new work, as it did with The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, adapted by Christina Ham. Arts on the Horizon, which produces theatre for very young children (six and under) produced three new works: To the Clouds, written and directed by Natasha Mirny Best, Beep Beep, written and directed by Rex Daugherty, and Sailing on a String, by Becca Drew Ramsey.
Finally, excellent devised work continues in DC with Convergence Theatre and its A New Nation, collectively devised by its Guerilla Theatre Works. The Kennedy Center brought Second City to its stage with the crowd-pleasing world premiere commission of The Second City’s Love, Factually, and Pointless Theatre continues devising new and innovative works in puppet theatre with its adapted offerings of Don Cristobal, Visions of Love (based on Charlie Chaplin’s classic film City Lights) and the original work Forest Treas.
It is humbling to report on creative work in a city full of amazing artists so dedicated to generating a new American canon for the theatre. Washington, DC continues to grow and thrive as an incredible home for innovation in new work.