The economic havoc caused by the coronavirus has claimed another local victim – Brave Spirits Theatre.
The nine-year-old company was in the midst of an ambitious project to produce Shakespeare’s histories from Richard II to Richard III when Covid-19 began to shut down theaters – and most other enterprises – in and near DC. The company had successfully produced Richard II and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and was producing Henry V when the curtain fell in March. The company had planned to produce the remaining plays in the cycle – Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Richard III – during the 2020-21 season, but the economic effect of the shutdown made that impossible and the company announced in September that it would discontinue the cycle. On Saturday, the company revealed that it would stop producing altogether.
“Without the ability to plan for future performances, Brave Spirits is unable to recover financially from the loss of Shakespeare’s Histories,” the Arlington-based company said in a press release over the name of Artistic Director Charlene V. Smith, who co-founded the troupe with Victoria Reinsel.
The Histories Brave Spirits was able to perform were successful financially and well received critically. “a strong hand is needed at the rudder to avoid a tedious evening,” DCTS’ John Geoffrion said of the company’s production of the difficult Henry IV, Part 2 “Charlene Smith and her team are equal to the task from the opening moment of Rumour’s prologue to the final blackout. As much as one may claim that the text is all, it certainly helps to have clever staging and a firm directorial vision; to make a potentially funereal script sparkle with life is a remarkable achievement.”
Brave Spirits was given principally to classical theater, producing several of Shakespeare’s contemporaries as well as the Bard. In 2017 the company did a manic, slam-bang production of John Webster’s 17th-century slasher play, The Duchess of Malfi, (“just enjoy the funny and exciting and extravagant bits, [and] you’ll find that it is a good use of your hard-earned money,” DCTS advised.) and a magic-infused Doctor Faustus.
The company also staged its norm-breaking “incest rep”, two 17th-century explorations of sex and violence: A King and No King and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Of the former, DCTS’ Steven McKnight noted that “the breadth and depth of the acting talent is impressive.” DCTS’ Jeffrey Walker called ‘Tis Pity a “sordid, deliciously devious, and verse-filled drama of betrayal and revenge” which benefitted from “the detailed and sensitive direction of BST artistic director Charlene V. Smith” and “impeccable casting”.
Notwithstanding its commitment to the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Brave Spirits found room for original productions. Smith’s What Lamb! What Ladybird! kicked off the company’s tenure at the 2011 Fringe Festival. And The Trojan Women Project, a devised work riffing off the original by Euripides, won two Helen Hayes nominations. (“Director Rachel Hynes and her game ensemble have created an engaging exploration that fully utilizes the devised theatre model – a collage of sights and sounds, movement and words that illuminate the experience and psyche of women from the classical era to now,” Walker said for DCTS.)
Actually, there was a third play which received its world premiere from Brave Spirits, at least as a professional production: the 400-year-old The Bloody Banquet, which the company staged in 2015. DCTS’ Brett Steven Abelman observed that the production was “[c]arefully and energetically staged”.
“[T]his is a work that certainly gives you a lot to chew on.” Abelman said.
The company intends to make audio recordings of the eight history plays available “in order to commemorate the effort and artistry of the Histories team and provide entertainment and a resource for our audiences and the academic community,” the company said.
“The company’s legacy will live on through these recordings, our open-source production and administrative archive on the website, and two essays in the process of being published: one on directing the Henriad in repertory by artistic director Charlene V. Smith and another on BST’s feminist staging of The Changeling, co-written by Smith and Musa Gurnis,” said the company.