With many of our reviewers resting on the DCTS yacht, anchored off the coast of Majorca, still exhausted from the enormous Fringe Festival, we are this year providing partial coverage of the Page-to-Stage Festival. This year’s selections include the following:
Saturday, September 5, 2009
In Jennifer Nelson’s playful 24, 7, 365, she asks the provocative question, “What would your life look like if all your wishes and dreams came true.” With cell phones competing with an outhouse and the great (dark) outdoors, two couples and friends discover all kinds of things about themselves and each other at a campsite where a husband tries to celebrate his birthday with his social work-addicted wife, her shallow, fun-loving brother and his less than perfect girlfriend. 24, 7, 365 reflects middle class African Americans pondering about happiness and contentment and what it means to live fully expressed, motivated and actualized lives.
Nelson has a perfect pitch ear for the cadence, style and flavor of her characters, and their interactions are honestly portrayed with cultural richness and charm. 24, 7, 365 is a gem that’s apparently been in “reading status” for a couple of years and it’s time for the clever writing to get a fully produced airing, (hopefully with a more accessible and engaging title.)
She also saw Karen Brody’s Michelle Obama, Task Master, produced by Women’s Work Writers Group, and observed:
This funny piece uses an ensemble of zany characters to relay Mission Impossible dilemmas of modern moms and homemakers trying to do it all. Beth is so exhausted from dealing with her 3 boys and her traveling, detached husband that she’s deliriously conjured up soothing and comforting scenes with the First Lady offering wisdom and advice to cope. The lightning fast interactions among the assortment of characters, references to modern pioneers of the women’s movement, and Beth’s growing self awareness of her own power highlight the play’s relevance and effectiveness.
Also from the Women’s Work Writers Group, she saw Crawling From the Ashes of September 11th, by Shelley Herman Gillon from the book, “Not to Worry, I’m Just Collateral Damage” written by Julia Caswell Daitch
This piece drops hints of fresh new approaches to the tragedy of Sept 11th, and has tremendous potential. It’s an adaptation from a book about a woman considering suicide four years after her brother’s death on that infamous day is compelling and provocative. The writer establishes family history, background conditions, even psychological motivation by way of a dialog between the woman and her sibling’s ghostly apparition, who tries to stop her from ending her life. Some parts of the play work tremendously well, such as the tender affection between the siblings, Julie’s ever deepening grief at her brother’s loss, and placing the event in the context of another national tragedy, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Crawling from the Ashes is an honest portrayal of grief and its various passages.
Joel Markowitz saw the presentation of Adventure Theatre, Imagination Stage and the Kennedy Center for Young Audiences, and files this report:
From 6–7 PM on Saturday, September 5th, The Millennium Stage North was packed with parents and their young children as Adventure Theatre, Imagination Stage, and The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences presented a sneak preview of their 2009-2010 seasons.
Adventure Theatre’s The Musical Adventures Of Flat Stanley began the festivities with bubbly Ryan Manning, as Flat Stanley- dressed in an orange and white flat shirt and blue jeans– and Michael Grew –dressed in a red and white shirt and light-colored khakis – singing “I Wish I Were” (Harry Potter, Darth Vader, and an inventor of a robot dog), followed by Ryan’s sweet and energetic “In a Tree”. Michael and Ryan were joined by Jade Wheeler as a post-woman in the bouncy “Travelin Through the Mail.”
Imagination Stage previewed four of its upcoming season’s shows – Ferdinand the Bull, Disney’s Mulan, The Dancing Princesses, And How I Became A Pirate, with four talented actors/singers – Chris Wilson, Andrew Boza, Sara Beth Pfeifer, and Janet Stanford.
The first funny song, “Bully Is What a Bull Should Do” was sung by Chris as Ferdinand and Sarah as Cochina, begging Ferdinand to “stop smelling the roses”, and go to Madrid to join in the bullfights.
From Mulan, “Keep ‘em Guessin’ ” had Chris as the not-too-successful dragon Mushu – dressed in red and white dragon ears – trying with no luck to blow fire, but being able to blow a lot of hot air, while at the same time, trying to teach Mulan how to pretend to be a boy. “I’ll be there besides you. Who can ask for anything more!” Merman would have liked that one!
Andrew and Chris got to play royalty as they sang Chris Youstra’s Duke Ellington-like, jazzy and finger-snappin’ “Holes in Their Soles” from The Dancing Princesses. I was tappin’ my feet.
A young audience member named Adam was asked to join the cast on the stage as their young Jeremy – The Pirate. As they placed a pink and white Pirate hat on Adam’s head, the entire audience was asked to welcome Adam with a rousing “AARGH”, and they helped Adam learn some new pirate lingo, including, “Ahoy!” and “Alas!”. Adam sat on the side of the stage quietly tapping his left foot to the beat of “Talk Like a Pirate” from How I Became a Pirate. And after all that new training, I am confident that “A pirate he will be”.
To end the preview, David Emerson Toney introduced selections from The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences’ Heirloom: A Kennedy Family Scrapbook Of American Poetry, a show based on two collections of poetry selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy, played by Connan Morrissey. The Kennedys kept a poetry scrapbook, and the audience was treated to some of the poems in that scrapbook, including “Annabelle Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe, “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May” by E.E. Cummings, “The Porcupine” by Ogden Nash, hilariously acted by Michael Vitaly Sazonov (as the porcupine) and James Flanagan, as the needled hound, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and an Iroquois Native American Prayer, which begins with,” We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us…” At the end, the audience was reminded that the best thing closing a book, is that tomorrow – you can open it up again. The excellent cast ensemble also included: Melissa Flaim, Kamillah F. Forbes, and Kerri Rambow.
Lorraine Treanor saw this year’s From Prison to Stage presentation. Here’s what she has to say
The Safe Street Arts Foundation returned to Page-to-Stage with a new collection of plays written by or with imprisoned playwrights and composers. The smartly dressed Millennium Stage South audience listened closely to stories both new and familiar. The evening began with a simple strumming of songs of freedom from Safe Streets director Dennis Sobin, and ended with an exuberant call for prisoners to stop waging war against each other and to instead discover peace, and freedom of the spirit and mind. These seven pieces are honest, true, intensely personal depictions of incarceration and free of clich?.
Spoken word artist Lamont Carey heated up the stage with his poem about re-entry, “the streets keep calling me … by my first name” before introducing the short play Reading Slim. Raymond McGee’s piece was about getting a hostile, illiterate prisoner into the federal prison’s GED program. The men’s trio Inner Voices gave harmonized musical comment to another short work, The Love That Divides, by Hakim M. Abdul-Wasi, about what happens when a son, converted to Islam, returns home to his staunchly Baptist family.
A prisoner, excited about receiving early release, must first confront the damage his behavior and two terms of incarceration have had on his wife and family in Homeward Bound by Richard Dyches. When ex-prisoner Alex Friedman introduced his own play, a farce titled One Fine Day, promising the audience it would show how the legal system really works, he drew laughs and applause from the crowd. The defendant, who has pled guilty to a charge of littering, draws a sentence of $10 … plus the death penalty and 120 years served concurrently from a gun toting judge who explains “We can’t catch everybody, so we punish the ones we do catch with all the crimes committed that week. In this court, no crime goes unpunished.”
The most powerful moments of the evening were coming. Billie Tyler, an ex-prisoner who is now a Registered Nurse providing medical care to DC’s sex workers where they live and work, introduced Her Song. The lights dimmed, and the woman sitting beside me rose and began singing a soul stirring a cappella version of Billy Holiday’s ‘Good Morning Heartache’, slowly walking to the stage, and sitting on its edge. Fifty two women, we were told, now sit on death row in this country, and we were about to hear from some of them, thanks to author Kathleen O’Shea, who has documented these women in two scholarly books. The actors called out their names. Periodically, they were interrupted by three different, heart-breaking stories about 25 year old Kelly, who had just received her execution date, convicted of murdering a man who molested her. ‘In my Solitude…’ Lorri Carter sang, as one woman talked about her humiliating treatment from the guards and living in solitary lockup 23 hours a day. But the final song belonged to Kelly, who had only one request: that a certain song be played at her execution. Carter sang it for her: Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’.
Director Jodi Kanter is an associate professor of theater at George Washington University, and has written about her work creating theater in community settings: Performing Loss. She adapted several pieces for the evening, and was well represented by her cast of Washington actors: Maia DeSanti, Jam Donaldson, Jahi, Foster-Bey, Jon Garcia, Patricia Griffith, Andrew Honeycutt, and Nanna Ingvarsson.
For the finale, the stage was turned over to the Judy Dworkin Performance Ensemble and members of the York (Connecticut) Correctional Institution, who electrified the audience from their opening piece – a cadence of guard’s commands in a skillfully executed step performance, quickly followed by spoken and interpreted pieces on time – “I’m done with Time. I’m tired of being reminded of what I’m not.” – two haunting pieces about hair, including the women’s trio of the evening singing in beautifully vocalized harmonies about caring for hair, ‘Locked in. Locked out.’ about how the wars between prison inmates add to the actual and emotional time served, and a concluding section reminiscent of DC’s renowned Sweet Honey in the Rock, in which the women’s voices blended in a song which said true freedom can’t be found outside the prison walls but only within each person.
After the performance, author Kathleen O’Shea told me she wrote to each of her subjects, before her first book on the women of death row was published, asking what they wanted to say. From different parts of the country the letters came back. Tell them the truth, and tell them our names.
I hope that Safe Street’s Prison to Stage will return next year. Sitting amongst family and friends of those who have wrestled with the challenge of imprisonment, hearing the truth, hearing the names, and honoring the truth tellers is an unforgettable experience I would recommend to anyone.
Tim Treanor saw Amelia, and files this report:
Scena Theatre’s Amelia was a late entry to the Page-to-State docket. This is a one-woman play which Artistic Director Robert McNamara wrote and directed about the famed aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, whose disappearance over the Pacific during a round-the-world flight seventy-two years ago is one of our endearing mysteries. McNamara’s grim speculation: Earhart’s historic flight was a cover for a U.S. spy mission against the Japanese, and the Empire brought her down and imprisoned her. Sara Barker played Amelia as febrile, high-stung, brilliant, and much put upon.
He also saw two One-Acts presented by Doorway Arts Ensemble:
Doorway Arts Ensemble, a relatively new company specializing in very new plays, presented a Saturday doubleheader. In the witty Sex and Education, by Los Angeles playwright Lissa Levin, the premise is that during 12th-grade English finals, retiring teacher Miss Edwards (Sarah Holt) catches star jock Joe Marks (DeShaude Barner) passing a crude, obscenity-laden mash note to his girlfriend, Hannah (Kristen Garaffo). Liberated by her impending move into the real estate profession, Miss Edwards decides to keep Joe after class – and make him turn the mash note into a persuasive essay, with a topic sentence, three supporting sentences and a conclusion. Joe, who needs a passing grade in order to take advantage of his basketball scholarship to Michigan, reluctantly gets to work, and the result is an education to both teacher and student. Holt was absolutely terrific in this, and if they go into production in DC, I hope she gets to reprise her role.
The second one-act was Owl Moon, by Liz Maestri, in which Isaac (Jeremy J. Brown) and Lisa (Sabrina Shahmir) are a young couple on the rocks, meet in cabin in the woods during the dead of winter hoping to sort out their relationship. In the meantime another couple, Shell (Karen Lange) and Salome (Bethany Hoffman) are each dragging large sacks through the same woods with the intent to throw them into the ravine. I won’t tell you what was in the sacks, but it isn’t Christmas presents. The two couples meet, with disastrous results. Periodically an owl (Jean Hudson Miller) intervenes to restore order to chaos. Sometimes this play is on the pathos side; sometimes on the bathos side, in surprising ways. Lange, called upon as Shell to speak in Salome’s voice, did a truly impressive, dead-on impersonation of Hoffman doing Salome.
Leslie Weisman had a busy day. If you think Leslie’s been loafing this summer because you haven’t seen her reviews, here’s her critique of the Munich Film Festival. Saturday, she saw The Audible Group’s Witness and The Listening Room: Troublesome Gap and watched the Kennedy Center’s Living Heirloom: A Family Scrapbook of American Poetry – the show that Joel saw in sneak-preview form. Her report
Witness, from the pen of the prize-winning Georgetown University junior Miranda Rose Hall, comes to the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival with about as many bona fides as can fit in a one-act play. And lives up to them all.
Hall, the great-granddaughter of poet Ogden Nash, has inherited her illustrious forebear’s way with words. But rather than the wry verse that made him famous, Witness instead recalls and may be a tribute to the haunting and less familiar Nash of the poem for whose heroine Hall is named, “A Lady Who Thinks She Is Thirty.” The play is a production of The Audible Group, and TAG director Susan Lynskey introduced the play to the capacity audience as the first of what TAG foresees as a series of “audio theatre” productions, beginning in Spring 2010.
Witness is an ideal candidate for audio theatre. Rich in metaphor, it draws the listener into the fragile world of Harold (Michael Russotto) and his small daughter Lyla (Rachel Caywood), who are trying to find their way both in life and with each other after the sudden death of Meg, their young wife and mother, from a brain aneurysm. Help will come from an unlikely source: two flowers, Honey (Colleen Delaney) and Falfie (Hall), whose lives are even more fragile, and who also must come to terms with the imminent reality of death. The listener is aided by the aptly named Old (Faith Potts) who feels quietly at home among the graves and tombstones of the cemetery, and whose observations on life and death and the journey in between act as a narrative arc.In addition to its pithy (and remarkably mature) turns of phrase and philosophical commentary, the play is also filled with humor ranging from the sweet to the delightfully snarky (here Hall excels). Each of the characters is played not just with sympathy, but with a keen understanding.
Audio theatre really got a workout in The Listening Room: Troublesome Gap, produced by Audible Group founding members Matthew Nielson, Susan Lynskey and James Konicek: Right off, audience members were told to close their eyes. (I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek, out of both personal and reporter’s curiosity, and was surprised to find about 95% of the roomful of people with their eyes firmly shut.) Taking us back to the golden days of radio, a male voice with a Western drawl narrated the tale, which had elements of both classic Western drama and humor with a few sly contemporary references slipped in. It was accompanied by excellent sound effects that recalled not just radio, but the genre films that made millions for Hollywood for over half a century.
The willingness of so many to play along with the imposed protocol (which could so easily have been breached), the smiles on their faces as they listened, and the stampede of applause that greeted the invisible speakers, writers and technicians at the show’s end was proof, if any were needed, that audio theatre is not a forgotten relic of the past.
Nor is a famous American family that has been part of the American political landscape for almost as long as the Western, although at least in the last half century on the opposite coast. Living Heirloom: A Kennedy Family Scrapbook of American Poetry, was presented as part of the Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Written by Jason Williamson, this projected one-hour play (one-half hour here) uses Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s “The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” and “A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children” as a jumping-off point for an inventive and exhilarating series of vignettes as we watch a Kennedy-like clan of kids teasing, roughhousing, and supporting each other. I only wish the seven superb actors’ names had been written somewhere; they went by too quickly to be taken down. Their boundless exuberance, Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics and deeply felt humanity kept even the tiniest tots entranced, and should go a long way toward fulfilling Williamson’s stated goal: “to open up these poems for young audiences.” In fact, I’d wager that whenever this show is staged (expected in “a couple of years”), it will open these poems to audiences of all ages, and reveal or recall to them what “Kennedy” meant to a generation of Americans.
NOTE: Playwright Miranda Rose Hall is also a theater reviewer for DC Theatre Scene. DCTS editor and publisher Lorraine Treanor is a founding member of The Audible Group, along with Konicek, Lynsky and Neilson.
Here’s the upcoming production schedules for the shows Joel saw at Page-to-Stage:
Adventure Theater’s The New Musical Adventures Of Flat Stanley
February 12- April 6, 2010
Presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre Intl. (MTI)
Book and Lyrics by Timothy A. McDonald
Music by David Weinstein, Jonathan K. Waller, Timothy A. McDonald, & Stephen Gabriel
Directed by Nick Olcott
Based on the popular children’s series by Jeff Brown with illustrations by Scott Nash. Stanley Lambchop wakes up one morning flat…really, really flat. He can slide under locked doors, roll up like a mat, become a trampoline, and even put himself in a big envelope and travel around the world from Washington, DC to France to Honolulu and beyond.
Ferdinand The Bull
September 26-November 1, 2009
Book and Lyrics by Karen Zacarías
Music by Deborah Wicks La Puma
Based on the Story by Munro Leaf
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
November 24, 2009-January 10, 2010
Music and Lyrics by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, Stephen Schwartz, Jeanine Tesori and Alexa Junge
Music Adapted and Arranged and Additional Music and Lyrics by Bryan Louiselle
Book Adapted and Additional Lyrics by Patricia Cotter
Based on the 1998 Disney film Mulan and the story “Fa Mulan” by Robert D. San Souci
Directed by Janet Stanford
The Dancing Princesses
April 14-May 30, 2010
Book by Allyson Currin
Music and Lyrics by Christopher Youstra
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
How I Became a Pirate
June 23-August 15, 2010
Adaptation and Lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli
Music by Steve Goers
Based on the Book by Melinda Long, Illustrations by David Shannon
Directed by Paul McIneeny
The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences’
Living Heirloom: A Kennedy Family Scrapbook of American Poetry
By Jason Williamson
President John F. Kennedy said that “poetry reminds [man] of the richness and diversity of his existence.” This new piece will weave a powerful and emotionally complex tapestry of the verse that was an essential part of an iconic American family. Based on two collections of poetry, both selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy: The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children.