April 18, 2014

H2O Brings Big Ideas to Life

Jake (Alex Podulke) unloads on Deborah (Diane Mair) in the world premiere of "H2O." (Photo by Seth Freeman.)

Good plays put people in circumstances that force them to confront essential questions; great plays move people past essential questions to a place where there’s nothing to ask, and leave them there. Jane Martin’s new play H2O puts would-be lovers Jake and Deborah on the road to such a place from the beginning, a place where their paradigms for processing experience must inevitably fail. It makes sure they understand what’s happening to them, and it gives them the tools to change course; then it steps away and watches them run their operating systems into the ground. Read More

Shephard’s Heartless Probes an In-between Existence

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If Heartless, Shepard’s newest play, which is part of the 23rd season of the Contemporary American Theater Festival, lacks the thrill of people crashing through sheetrock, it’s not because he’s decided to keep his characters in the room until they figure out a way to fix their broken lives: it’s because the whole thing takes place in the realm beyond those structured walls. Read More

Georgetown Filmmakers Offer a Vision of Freedom

Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page in "The East."

The East, a new movie by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, addresses some of the broadest, farthest-reaching dilemmas troubling the world today, which is one of the reasons I like it, but I’m going to look at it through a narrow window: actress Ellen Page’s face. That’s where the subtext is written. Read More

The 39 Steps: a Whirlwind Comes to Purcellville

Phil Erickson as Richard Hannay and Penny Hauffe as Pamela in "The 39 Steps."

Playwright Patrick Barlow calls The 39 Steps “an adaptation,” and I would assert that every production of it is an adaptation of that adaptation, which may account for the show’s popularity: it begs to be designed and redesigned. Read More

From The Mountaintop into the Promised Land

Bowman Wright (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Joaquina Kalukango (Camae). Photo by Scott Suchman.

I thought it was really raining behind the motel room on the Kreeger stage. They must have extended the sprinkler system and built a trough to catch the water, I thought. An asphalt trough, because I also smell wet pavement, and that’s how rain sounds when it falls on pavement, not on grass or on a roof. And the asphalt must be warm still from the sun because clouds of steam are floating up into the lights behind the building — the falling rain, the rising steam. Read More

ASC’s “Custom of the Country” Strikes a Modern Chord

Tracie Thomason as Zenocia and René Thornton, Jr. as Count Clodio in "The Custom of the Country." ( Photo by Lauren D. Rogers.)

This morning I read an article in The Washington Post that helped me understand why the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton sometimes devotes its prodigious talents to plays that aren’t as hot as its actors, like “The Custom of the Country”: they do it to show that we resemble our ancestors more than we differ from them. In spite if Twitter. In spite of nuclear physics. In spite of Keurig coffee machines and everything else the human race has achieved since 1619, when that play was first staged in London’s original Globe Theater. Read More

Gazebo Struggles at WLT

Lori Pilong as Nell Nash in The Gazebo at Winchester Little Theater.

Alec Coppel’s play The Gazebo, which is onstage now at Winchester Little Theater, resembles nothing so much as the old situation comedies I remember from the era when I used to watch TV. It’s about a guy who writes TV shows pretty well but is not adept at ordinary life. Read More

“Into the Woods” Showcases Shenandoah Talent

The cast of "Into the Woods" on stage at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theater. (Photo by Kathy Kuehner.)

Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods must pose a tempting challenge for directors. The play interweaves the plot lines of four familiar fairy tales, distorting them in the first act and subverting them in the second in a way that flips the bird at conventional expectations, many of which deserve to have the bird flipped at them now and then. Read More

Zimmerman and Ovid Transform Arena Stage

Zeus and his son visit an old human couple in Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. (Photo courtesy of

The first thing you notice of course is the pool: you can smell it before you go in; you can feel the water in the air. Ten yards by twenty yards maybe. The bottom and the sides are black, so it’s hard to judge depth, but there’s a chair at one end and only a few inches of its legs appear to be underwater. The pool, framed by a deck of planks, fills the entire playing space, and the Fichlander’s four sections of seats flare up and out from the deck like the sides of a hopper. It would be a good place for a boxing match. Read More

Arena Stage Makes Good People Great

Dottie (Rosemary Knower), Margie (Johanna Day), and Jean (Amy McWilliams) watch the bingo board in "Good People" at the Arena Stage. (Photo by Margot Schulman.)

The pivotal character in David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play Good People has no lines and never comes onstage. All she does is fiddle with the TV in a room behind the kitchen, sometimes turning up the volume until it’s so loud that we can’t hear the characters who do have lines. When that happens, her mother, Margie, has to interrupt her train of thought, get up from the table, and leave the stage to turn the volume down. Her friends wait for the noise to stop, exchanging looks that show how often this has happened. When she comes back, the train of thought is gone. Read More

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