For your Washington City Paper, I reviewed The Panties, the Profit, and the Purse—a series of linked David Ives comedies adapted, with shrinking fidelity, from a trilogy by the 19th century German social critic Carl Sternheim. That sounds awfully highbrow, doesn't it? Ives is better at farce than at satire, and the show is a better document of what he likes than what he thinks. I liked it, but I'd like it more if Ives would—in the words of the 21st century social critic Boots Riley—"Sho[his]Ass." As it were.
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I've got reviews of two shows I enjoyed in this week's Washington City Paper: Studio Theatre second-in-command Matt Torney's confident new production of Brian Friel's 40-year-old Irish classic Translations, and Aaron Posner's The Winter's Tale over at the Folger. The former as a lot of superb performers who haven't worked a lot in Washington before. The latter has a bunch of Posner's favorite actors (and mine), but it's Michael Tisdale as the maniacal King Leontes who runs away with the show.
Gwydion Suilebhan, the playwright who by day is Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's marketing chief, knows how to tailor a pitch. He hooked me on the idea of doing a feature about Woolly co-founder Howard Shalwitz's return to acting after almost a decade away by suggesting that Shalwitz is DC theatre's answer to John Cazale. I took him so literally that I had a couple of paragraphs to that effect that my first draft:
Gwydion Suilebhan, Woolly’s Director of Brand and Marketing but also an oft-produced playwright, likens Shalwitz to John Cazale, an actor now remembered mainly by pub-quiz champs and committed cinephiles. Before he died of cancer in 1978, Cazale appeared in only five feature films, but every one earned a Best Picture nomination. Three of them won; all remain revered. Probably most famous for his role as the hapless Fredo Corleone in the Godfather pictures, Cazale set a never-to-be-surpassed standard for quality control.
It’s an imperfect comparison. Part of the Cazale legend was its compression: He made five towering films in six years, and then he died. Shalwitz’s performances have been parceled out over decades. And though Shalwitz himself has usually been praised, reception to the shows overall has been more mixed-positive than universal adoration. (With the exception of Full Circle, his entire body of work as an actor predates my own tenure as a critic.) The Arsonists is only the third time he’s performed in Woolly’s airy, modern, Penn Quarter playhouse since the company moved into its permanent home a dozen years ago.
It was still a good idea for a story, so here's the story. Thanks, Gwydion, and Howard, and everyone who talked to me or tried to get in touch with me for it, whether your comments ended up in the piece or not.
Studio Theatre is putting on a ballsy experiment for the next month or so, running a new production of Three Sisters and No Sisters—Aaron Posner's companion play—not in rep but literally on top of one another. I review both in this week's Washington City Paper.
FURTHER READING: My April 2015 review of Round House's Uncle Vanya. My January 2015 review of Posner's Life Sucks, or the Present Ridiculous at Theatre J. My June 2013 review of Stupid Fucking Bird. And my August 2011 review of the Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya, starring Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.
The Heaven Over New York: Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika, reviewed.
Lemme tell ya, people: It was much easier to figure out why Tony Kusher's most recent play is lousy than it was to try to figure out why Angels in America, the epic masterpiece that shall be his legacy, is so good. You have countless other, more reputable sources on that, of course. I was just writing about the show's latest and largest local revival, the product of a Marvel Team-Up between Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre.
While researching this review I discovered that Mike Nichols' 2003 HBO miniseries of Angels in America earned four-stars-out-of-four for its artistic merit and four-for-four for its depiction of the nursing profession on the website The Truth About Nursing.
FURTHER READING: Here's my review of the 2011 revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, which came to Arena Stage four years ago. It was the first major play to address the AIDS crisis, and it was written from inside the trenches with shells exploding all around. Which is at least one of the reasons it hasn't had (in my opinion) the afterlife the more contemplative and mythic Angels, written several years afterward, has had. (Twelve years elapsed between Angels' premiere and its emergence as an HBO miniseries; for The Normal Heart to go from the stage to HBO took 29 years.)
Once again, Isaac Butler and Dan Kois' mighty oral history of Angels in America—soon to be expanded to book-length!—is here, and highly recommended.
My review of the U.S. debut of Lucy Kirkwood's sprawling, ambitious drama Chimerica at the Studio Theatre is in today's Washington City Paper. Also reviewed: Women Laughing Alone with Salad, a surreal feminist comedy from Sheila Callaghan making its world premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. For those keeping score, that's one great play by a woman that's not officially part of the Women's Voices Theatre Festival, and one pretty good play that is. Read those pieces here, or pick up a dead-tree WCP, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis — and you don't even need to have an Amazon Prime subscription!
Each of these shows contain very specific plot and/or production elements I expect their playwrights and directors would prefer for audiences to discover for themselves, but if you abhor surprises and would like to have these things spoiled for you, by all means, go find their Washington Post reviews instead.
The Play's the Thing, the Thing, and the Other Thing: The Blood Quilt, Jumpers for Goalposts, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, reviewed.
My reviews of — in alphabetical order — the new play The Blood Quilt, the debuting-in-the-U.S. play Jumpers for Goalposts, and the postmodern chestnut Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, are all in this week's Washington City Paper. Except for the latter two of the three, which are online-only. Find them via the links above.
We've got an An-ton of Chekhov in DC just now, what with Arena Stage doing Christopher Durang's Tony Award-winning, Chekhov-inflected Sonia and Masha and Vanya and Spike, while Round House Theatre has put together a sublime new Uncle Vanya, working from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker's recent translation of the play.
I review both of those in today's Washington City Paper. I have seen Live Art DC's staged-in-a-bar Drunkle Vanya yet, but it's stumbling distance from my apartment so I should find the time.
FURTHER READING: My 2010 review of Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation. My 2011 review of Sydney Theatre Company's Liv Ullmann-directed, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving-starring Uncle Vanya. My 2012 review of Baker's The Aliens. My 2013 review of Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird, and its follow-up, from earlier, this year, Life Sucks, or the Present Ridiculous. Surely that's more than enough.