As this year closes, perhaps you, like we, are thinking back over your own year spent watching the various riches spread before us by Washington area theatres. I asked our staff for their most vivid memories. We hope you will share your own as comments for us all to savor.
Cervantes: The Last Quixote at GALA Hispanic Theatre
There is a magnificent moment in Cervantes: the Last Quijote, actually its climax and last moment in the play: The Spanish King falsely believes that Cervantes has stolen from the tax funds he has been collecting. So Cervantes has been imprisoned. This punishment, ironically, gives the genius the isolation he needs to complete his great masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Part II. Director José Luis Arellano García skillfully stages this moment:
Oscar de la Fuente, playing Cervantes, dons a tin helmet, and becomes Don Quixote. Cervantes jumps on the back of Martin (Samy Khalil), who becomes Quixote’s steed, Rocinante. As Don Quixote and Rocinante ride off together across the stage into the wings, Cervantes’ fictionally imagined world becomes reality. Rosalind Lacy as described in her 2016 overview of Hispanic Theatre.
Death of a Salesman at Everyman Theatre
Moments after an excoriating showdown between father and son, where Biff (an electrifying Chris Genebach) breaks down in sobs in front of Willie Loman (Wil Love), begging him to see his son for who he is and to be freed of his father’s stifling dreams, there’s something both wrenching and noble about Willie when he exclaims to Linda “Biff loves me! How about that?” – Jayne Blanchard
Equus at Constellation Theatre
Observing the worshipful, erotic connection between Alan Strang (Ross Destiche) and his horse god (costume by Erik Teague) in Constellation Theatre’s production of Equus gave a powerful impact to the character’s obsession. – Steve McKnight
Girl In The Red Corner from The Welders
Learning to take a punch. The Mixed Martial Arts training the cast received while preparing for the debut of Stephen Spotswood’s new cage-set drama paid serious dividends. This is especially true during a scene in which Audrey Bertaux’s rookie fighter Halo faces off in her first sparring match against semi-pro trainer Gina. It doesn’t go well for Halo, but it goes viscerally well for the audience. Maggie Donnelly’s performance as Gina is one of the best of the year. – Ryan Taylor
Goyescas from In Series
As the mezzo-soprano, Fairouz Foty, dressed in white lace, waits in her garden for the arrival of her lover/military captain, she sings gloriously and passionately to an unseen nightingale, heard in the piano accompaniment of rippling arpeggios and trills, performed by virtuoso-pianist Carlos C. Rodriguez. It is the ultimate lament of deep and faithful love, an expressive duet between Rosario, the aristocrat, and the “The Lady and the Nightingale” from Goyescas, the magnificent one-hour opera by Enrique Granados. As if in a dream, Rosario rises and asks the nightingale why she sings all night long? It is a sublime, other-worldly moment, that was an exquisite show stopper.
This opera is by Enrique Granados, and Manuel De Falla, two Spanish composers, whose spirited, gypsy folk melodies and flamenco rhythms were inspired by Francisco de Goya’s paintings of beautiful peasant women draped in black mantillas. This magnificent production marked a high point for the In Series Opera Company last season.
Happy Hour at Spooky Action Theatre
After an hour of uneventful teamwork, the unscripted finale of Spooky Action Theater’s interactive Happy Hour shockingly pulled back the curtain on our worst human instincts. Much like the infamous Milgram or Stanford Prison Experiments, it was a shock to see how strangers in groups can turn on each other in an instant. – Ben Demers
With time quickly running out to save the heroine of Spooky Action and MachinaEx’s exciting interactive (and competitive!) game/play, I reached for the card marked “gun,” aiming to end our competition forcefully. Another member of my team physically stopped me, playing a more merciful card and winning our team the night. A revealing victory! – Ryan Taylor
Jelly’s Last Jam at Signature Theatre
You have to single out DeMoya Watson Brown, Christopher Broughton, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Olivia Russell and Joseph Monroe Webb for transcendent tap dancing in the number “Dr. Jazz” as well as others, which reminds you of the highly emotive dancing seen most recently in the musical Shuffle Along, another George C. Wolfe creation. When they’re dancing at full throttle, you can see and most importantly, feel, all the life and promise and hurt Jelly Roll Morton passed up to hide behind his ego and piano. – Jayne Blanchard
Lost in the Stars from Washington National Opera
I rarely attend opera, but the title song, which I’d known for most of my life, drew me to see Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson’s opera Lost in the Stars at Glimmerglass Festival in 2012, and then again to The Kennedy Center this year to catch its short run there. So I had already witnessed the heart rending close to Act I, as Eric Owens, playing Stephen Kumalo, a priest to his small church in rural South Africa struggled with how to tell his wife their son had committed murder and would be facing a certain death penalty. Where was his God? Did God even exist? As the sky deepened around him and the stars appeared, Owens with his deeply sonorous bass voice sang “But I’ve been walking through the night and the day/ Till my eyes get weary and my head turns gray / And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away/ Forgetting his promise that we’ve heard him say / And we’re lost out here in the stars.”
He was alone onstage. The chorus of soft weeping came, as it did at Glimmerglass, from the audience. – Lorraine Treanor
Lookingglass Theatre’s production of Moby Dick at Arena Stage
You are in Arena Stage, for the climax of Lookingglass Theatre’s Moby Dick. The mad and blasphemous Ahab, with a small crew, has left the Pequod on what appears to be little more than a rowboat. They mean to kill Moby Dick, a thirty-two thousand pound sperm whale, an animal bigger than the stage, bigger than the theater itself. On the Pequod, the remaining crew watches uneasily. The immense animal shakes off Ahab and his team as you might wave off a fly at your picnic barbeque. Then he notices the Pequod, and turns his head.
Of course, there is no Pequod, no rowboats, no whale on the stage. It is nonetheless the most terrifying moment I experienced in theater this year. – Tim Treanor
Next to Normal at Keegan Theatre
The reprise of “I Am the One” reprise left not a single dry eye in the house. Kari Ginsburg’s teary farewell gives way to a powerful, long overdue reckoning between father Chad Wheeler and son David Lanstrom – one of the more emotionally wrenching moments I’ve experienced in a theater.- Ben Demers
Not Medea at Contemporary American Theater Festival
I went to the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia this summer, as I try to do every summer. I liked most of what I saw but my favorite play was something called Not Medea. Here’s what happened.
We’re all seated, waiting for the play to start, when this woman bursts in, wearing a raincoat and shaking an umbrella. She starts talking loudly to other people in the audience, arguing about where she’s supposed to sit. Something’s wrong with her, I think, and then she starts addressing us all. She didn’t know what play this was going to be, she explains, and has just found out that it’s Medea, which she had acted in while she was in high school, and which she hates.
She goes on explaining her circumstances. She takes a call from her daughter, a little girl who needs a bedtime story. She tells one. She apologizes to us. By now she’s sitting on the bed that itself sits on the middle of the stage. She talks to us about her ex-husband, Jason, who left her to marry someone with money and position. And then, almost imperceptibly, she becomes Medea, railing against Jason, who abandoned her to marry into royalty. And Jason appears — as the ex-husband, and as the man who took the golden fleece.
Back and forth she goes, from being the woman who was legendary for killing her children, to being not-Medea, an ordinary, overworked, overstressed mom, and back again. And the moment is — no moment. There is no hunching of shoulders, no dialect, nothing to show that the actor is abandoning one character and assuming the other. She simultaneously is Medea and not Medea, thus fulfilling playwright Allison Gregory’s intention of bringing the ancient drama into our present tense.
I have seen many excellent actors during my years as a reviewer, but Joey Parsons is one of the few that could pull something like this off. I’ve seen her in four plays at the CATF — including a solo show and a two-hander — and she has been a marvel each time. She has not acted in Washington so far, and this gives you yet another reason to go the Shepherdstown for the festival. Look for her name in a production, then go buy a ticket. You’ll thank me later. – Tim Treanor
Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare Theatre Company
First seeing Dane Laffrey’s magnificent blood red nightclub set for Romeo & Juliet at The Shakespeare Theatre was a revelation (as was the entire production). The set both powerfully exemplified the modern staging of the story and ominously foreshadowed the coming tragedy. – Steve McKnight
Straight White Men at Studio Theater
Dance ‘till you drop.Three brothers and their father hold an impromptu Christmas Eve dance-off that’s equal parts joyous bonding, a battle for dominance, and a rapid descent into madness. A highlight of Studio’s generally excellent and incredibly well-timed production of Young Jean Lee’s caustically funny story of privilege and despair. – Ryan Taylor
The Last Schwartz at Theater J
The final scene threw me for a loop with a strange twist framed by incredible lighting ingeniously hidden in plain sight. – Ben Demers
The Nether at Woolly Mammoth Theatre
The secret about the little girl, Iris, in the cyber world of The Nether at Woolly Mammoth Theatre was a shocking reveal in a dark and disturbing story. – Steve McKnight
The Other Place at Rep Stage
A testament to the beauty of Julie-Ann Elliott’s performance as a dementia patient is seeing the brash fire in Juliana’s eyes slowly be replaced by confusion and fear, particularly in a later scene where she ends up in a stranger’s home and thinks it is her long-lost daughter. This scene also shows the effect of dementia on other people, as the woman (Maggie Robertson) goes from surprise to exasperation and then unexpected kindness when dealing with Juliana. – Jayne Blanchard
The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare Theatre Company
This was a production I didn’t look forward to attending – the second act holds so many difficult moments for me and so many women. I enjoyed intermission when the audience was invited onstage, as the wedding party and music continued. Cell phones flashed and cake pops were shared with the giddy audience. But still, that troublesome Act II awaited us. I had interviewed Oliver Thornton who played Bianca in this all male cast, and he described that final monologue, the one we all brace ourselves for: “When Bianca hears [Katherina’s] words, she understands something she never thought possible [about love]. In that last moment, when Bianca and the Widow kneel with Katherina, I really believe it is about the solidarity of sisterhood.” For me, when the three women rose and grasp hands in clear love and, as Thornton said, solidarity, I realized director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar had solved this difficult text. As much as this play has hurt over the years, Iskander’s production was a healing. – Lorraine Treanor
Titanic at Signature Theatre
I looked forward to Signature Theatre’s production of the musical Titanic with great anticipation. As I sat through every moment – savoring the music, the story, the performances, and the entire experience – there were times I just closed my eyes and experienced the performance as a soundscape. There were other times I looked up, gazing at the gangplanks ascending into the expanse of the theatre, imagining the late, great “ship of dreams.” Why close my eyes or look away from the show itself if it was such a magnificent presentation? I think because it was one of the few shows I have seen that took my breath away. – Jeff Walker
Related: Most memorable plays of 2016
We hope you will take a few moments to share your favorite memories of DC area theatre, 2016.