The Love of the Nightingale

Constellation Stage captures the multilayered stories from The Love of the Nightingale with full regalia and mythical epic bearing in the intimate Source space.  With the staging so beautifully rendered, it almost seems like an optical illusion of more square footage than what is actually there. Entering the stage flanked by lofty golden panels, you feel like you’re entering a majestic corridor a guest included as part of the immediate setting, thanks to A. J. Guban’s scenic design.

Matthew Schleigh and Dorea Schmidt (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Matthew Schleigh and Dorea Schmidt (Photo: Stan Barouh)

The opening scene portrays the carnage of war with two warriors battling to the death. Nicely choreographed by fight director Matthew R. Wilson, the men heave their massive (and scary) weaponry about with the ominous sense that a small unstaged mishap could result in unfortunate not-fake blood spewing.  As they claw their way through the ebb and flow of defeat and victory, Matthew Schleigh as King Tereus of Thrace enters proving his mighty prowess, chiseled features, dark scowling penetrating gaze, and light muscular build. A bonafide hunk.

highlightpencilAs a reward for his valor, the King of Athens gives him his eldest daughter Procne to wed. Without hesitating to consider her feelings, she is whisked away from her beloved sister Philomele, her family and homeland, to the foreboding, cold, even barbarous Thrace to the north.  Years pass, and when Procne can bear the sense of aloneness not a moment longer, she sends her husband to fetch her sister to join her for companionship.  That’s when the fateful floodgates open and unleash all kinds of mayhem resulting in epic tales of humanity (and infamous inhumanity).

The beautifully written Nightingale is based on the classic original by Sophocles, transformed by Ovid in Metamorphoses, and re-imagined by Olivier Award-winning playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker.  The production is filled with snippets from ancient drama, the journey of the wounded warrior, wayward sailing on vast oceans, weary foot soldiers following command.  There is even dramatic foreshadowing with a play within the production referencing the seething Phaedra.  Stockman handles all of these swirling age-old tales while balancing the emphasis on women’s struggles–  an adolescent girl’s delight at her approaching womanhood, trying to fit in a strange land, what happens to a conquered people, especially the women.

Megan Dominy and Ashley Ivey (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Megan Dominy and Ashley Ivey (Photo: Stan Barouh)

Here is where Rena Cherry Brown delivers the goods as the servant woman Niobe,  whose own story of being vanquished emerges as she tends to the obstinate Philomele, trying to warn of the dangers of speaking her mind and tending to the wounds and brutality that inevitably result.

The large cast delivers stellar moments.  Megan Dominy is exquisite as Philomele, capturing her slow spiral from innocent ingénue to captured, brutalized and debased, but not broken, wanderer.  Dorea Schmidt as her sister Procne maintains a steady core strength and has the voice of an angel.

Another angelic voice is Henry Niepoetter as the young son of the troubled couple.  Edward Christian, Daniel Corey, and Vanessa Bradchulis bring a caring command to everything they touch, as does the always spectacular Ashley Ivey.

Highly Recommended
Closes May 25, 2014
Constellation Theatre at
1835 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC
2 hours, no intermission
Tickets: $15 – $45
Thursdays thru Sundays
Musical accompaniment by Tom Teasley perfectly accentuates the moments with tympani-like crescendo for gigantic events or the soft whipple of a lark for softer moments.  Teasley’s mastery of the assorted instruments elevates the experience to new levels by connecting the scenes to the earliest human experience of sound—before there was speech and communication, there was an ancient drumbeat, replicating the heartbeat, and Teasley’s rhythms touch the heart and soul. Through Kelly King’s dance and movement choreography, the chorus  is supple and  engaging, while the warriors wait for orders in intriguingly manly formations.

Kendra Rai hits her usual majestic stride costuming in ancient classical mode with a hint of post modern flair.  The opening battle scene of battle clashing warriors attired in leather strapping is followed by the wispy chiffon of the sisters, empire-waisted pastel flowing gowns.  The men and women change costumes throughout to reflect their positions as part of the ensembles of warriors, sailors, hand-maidens, or even rabble-rousing neophytes of Bacchus hell-bent on debauchery.

The Love of the Nightingale is not light, easy drama, but the riveting production immerses us into ancient  worlds for a full two-hours with no intermission without skipping a beat.  The memorable passages of the script reflect the heartbeat of humanity, with observations about truth, the power of words, a reference to a caged bird singing, and even puppets enacting the truth when the tongue has been silenced.  Through Stockman’s bold and courageous storytelling, Constellation has yet again, tackled ancient difficult tales that resonate with modern complexity, aching to be retold.


The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker (Based on an Ovid tale in Metamorphoses) . Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman . Featuring Bru Ajueyitsi, Vanessa Bradchulis, Rena Cherry Brown, Edward Christian, Daniel Corey, Megan Dominy, Jennifer J. Hopkins, Ashley Ivey, Emma Jackson, Henry Niepoetter, Neelam Patel, Dorea Schmidt, Matthew Schleigh . Scenic design: A. J. Guban . Costume Design: Kendra Rai . Lighting Design: Joseph R. Walls . Props design: Angela Plante . Composer/musician: Tom Teasley . Fight director: Matthew R. Wilson . Choreographer: Kelly King . Puppet Design: Don Becker . Puppet Choreography (!) Eric Brooks . Production Stage Manager: Cheryl Ann Gnerlich (Production Stage Manager) . Produced by Constellation Theatre Company . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.

More reviews:

Terry Ponick . DigiNews
Randy Shulman . MetroWeekly
Barbara MacKay . Theatermania
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Bob Ashby . ShowbizRadio
April Forrer . MDTheatreGuide
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Missy Frederick . Washingtonian
Justin Schneider . DCMetroTheaterArts 

Debbie Minter Jackson About Debbie Minter Jackson

Debbie Minter Jackson is a writer and has performed in musical theater for decades. Originally from Chicago, she has hit stages throughout the Midwest and the Washington, D.C. area including the Kennedy Center in productions with the legendary Mike Malone. Her scripts have been commissioned and produced by the old Source Theater and festivals in New York. She is a member of the play reading and discussion group Footlights and the Black Women Playwrights’ Group. By day she happily works in a federal public health agency as a Senior Program Analyst and is in blissful partnership with her Bill.



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