A minor calamity befell the Push/Pull Theater Company’s actors for staging “The Scottish Play” for the 2010 Fringe Festival, in accordance to the famous superstition. In one of the most bizarre incidents of the festival, one audience member, informed of the “No late seating” policy at Fort Fringe, ripped the door off of its hinges and forced his way into the theater to take his seat. Thus, Push/Pull’s Macbeth became the only show that was worth paying property damages to see. So they’re testing their luck by performing it once more at the 1st Stage Theatre - a second chance for those who may have missed it at Fringe. This version of Macbeth is enhanced with capoiera, a form of Brazilian martial arts and dance, and the physicality of these moves, combined with the pared-down costumes and sets, earned rave reviews from Fringe critics and followers. But for the sake of 1st Stage Theatre’s doors and hinges - please arrive a few minutes before the production begins.
When cheerleader-perky Melissa shows up at the door of two elderly sisters, you’d expect her to offer to deliver meals or help around the house. What she’s offering instead, with the best of intentions, is something more sinister—salvation from an eternity of hellfire. The Christian fundamentalist wants to save Mary (Brigid Cleary) and her sweet sister Margaret (Michele Tauber), even though they’re quite satisfied with their own religion, thankyouverymuch. “You’re trying to convert Catholics? Into what?” asks Mary. “Christians,” replies Melissa (Beth Hylton). The religious showdown that follows is the type that occurs in dorms among freshman-year philosophy majors: Noisy, superficial, and not about to change either party’s beliefs. Both sisters’ faith is temporarily shaken, especially as they face down a major health problem (a plot line that is quickly discarded). But playwright Evan Smith doesn’t side with either religion in this inquisition—if anything, the characters’ general ignorance is an argument against them both. It seems like the only clear winner of The Savannah Disputation is blind faith.
It’s the choose-your-own-adventure of theatergoing: The audience of Eight gets to decide which four of the eight monologues offered will comprise their performance that night. The monologues are presented menu-style, with photos and a line of dialogue from each script. But that’s all you get to help you cast your vote, so curiosity and expectations are high. Among the choices are the characters of Jude, who is in love with an older woman; Danny, a body-building soldier working at a morgue; Bobby, a single mother at Christmas; and Millie, a prostitute. Another potential show could include Mona, who seeks boundaries after a bohemian upbringing; Andre, a gay man who mourns the end of a relationship; Astrid, who is deciding whether or not to cheat; and Miles, an expat who has narrowly survived a terrorist attack. Each show is different, and between these eight characters, there are 70 possible permutations that could make just one show—depending on the whims and tastes of the folks sitting to the left and right of you. You’ll have to trust them to choose wisely.
Depending on your brand of feminism, Legally Blonde is either a righteous tribute to girls finding their true ambition, or a magenta-coated, stereotype-filled tribute to consumerism and vapidity. But never mind that—it has dogs! Men in tight shorts! Sisterhood! Manicures! Squeeeeeeee! Luckily, the musical version of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon film doesn’t take itself too seriously. That would be impossible to do, since most of its characters are caricatures of themselves: The man-stealing bitch, the arrogant prep-school boy, the empty-headed sorority girls (who, in one of the show’s cleverest nods, form the Greek chorus). Becky Gulsvig, as Elle, is tasked with one of the squeakiest and most menacingly perky roles to grace any local stage, opening the show with the infectious “Omigod You Guys!” But oh my God, this show could not be more pink and sparkly if it were designed by Juicy Couture. Like that brand, the musical version of “Legally Blonde” inspires few tepid feelings—you’ll love it or roll your eyes. Being yourself may never go out of style, as the message of the show implies, but bedazzled pink terry-cloth sweatsuits sure do.
In many stagings of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” the actor playing Lady Bracknell is no lady at all. But rarely before has an all-drag cast of Oscar Wilde’s most famous work been attempted. It’s not just queens tottering across the stage in size 12 heels but also the gals who are drawing on a pencil-thin moustache and stuffing their pants in all the right places for the lead roles of John Worthing (Anne Nottage) and Algernon Moncreiff (Sara Barker). The commanding Bracknell (Brian Hemmingsen) towers over these women, especially in her grand plumed hat (“Enter the Dragon,” reads one of the clever title cards projected on the set like a silent film, the work of Erik Trester). But as lines are delivered in a falsetto with a five o’clock shadow, the societal flaws that Wilde lampoons appear even more ridiculous. Likewise, the ridiculousness of the drag can overshadow the message of those societal flaws. Funny as it may be, much of the cross-dressing distracts from the double-crossing.
It’s hard to say whether or not Avenue Q—a show that undergoes constant rewrites to keep the comedy up-to-date—is as contemporary as when it debuted in 2003. A majority of urban twenty-somethings are still underemployed, living in shitty apartments and trying to figure out how to get laid with the least possible effort. However, quarter-life disillusionment is beginning to look a little dated now that the Aughts have ended: It’s an especially tough sell in Washington, where Gen Y’s ‘Yes We Can’ played no small role in Obama winning the presidency, and several prominent members of the administration were born in the '80s. It’s a show about Type B personalities in a city of Type As. But the Sesame Street parody hasn’t lost any of its humor with age, even despite the real-life death of one of its main characters: the put-upon Gary Coleman, who in the show is a tenement property manager and the subject of the song “Schadenfreude.” As the puppets fumble through a drunken haze of one-night-stands and boundary-pushing (see: naked puppet sex, the beloved song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), despite all odds, they grow up.
When America’s two most prominent directors collect work from the same artist, it’s impossible not to view their acquisitions as competition. But apparently, that’s a sore spot between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who snipe at each other throughout the New York Times article about their collections of Norman Rockwell paintings and drawings, exhibited together at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “Telling Stories.” It’s pretty un-Rockwell-like conduct for two masters of sentiment, not to mention collectors of a painter whose works are all about bringing out the best in people. Sentimentality and Rockwell go hand-in-hand, of course, because the painter presents America as we want to remember it: first haircuts, proud Boy Scouts, and Sunday drives in the rumble seat. Schmaltzy subject matter does not make him any less of a painter, as evidenced in The Connoisseur, a portrait of an old man gazing at a Jackson Pollock-style modern drip painting. While not considered to be a self-portrait, the work is personal, painted in 1962, when Rockwell’s scenes of blissful Americana were falling out of favor with Saturday Evening Post advertisers. The artist is at his most interesting when revealing his insecurities. And speaking of insecurities: that work is in Spielberg’s collection, for those keeping score.
How Disney managed to make the ornate Kennedy Center Opera House feel like a theme park attraction is attributable only to their animatronic set and props, gobs of money, and that intangible quality of “Disney Magic.” When Mary Poppins takes flight across the Kennedy Center stage, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the show’s big-budget special effects. Her bottomless bag is a magic act in and of itself, and the Banks family home is a giant, unfolding dollhouse where objects move about unassisted, as if powered by supercalifragelistcexpialadocius poltergeists. P.L. Travers’ book has been given a contemporary update: Instead of a run on the bank, the financial downfall that George Banks (Laird Mackintosh) faces is a very timely Ponzi scheme. Several notable songs from the movie have been replaced with new ones, and some, like “Playing the Game”—where enormous toys come to life and dance menacingly around the children to protest mistreatment at their hands—may have been ill-advised. It weighs down a plot that, despite the best efforts of the talented Caroline Sheen and Gavin Lee as Bert, does not soar as high as Mary and her parrot umbrella. Poppins has the levitation down, but it could use a little more levity.
So many of the folks portrayed in Addison Ripley’s “Portray” are putting on the face of someone else that artifice seems to be the main ingredient in curator Frank Hallam Day’s blend of portraiture across mediums. There’s Mother/Daughter by Sara Winston, who poses the same model in alternatively dowdy and tarty nightgowns, near Jason Horowitz’ Bella, a close-up of the sapphire eye makeup of a drag queen. Hatnim Lee’s photographs, too, are elaborately staged; the subject of Green Forward wears a suit made of Solo cups and cellophane, and a frown. Day acknowledges the artifice in his own photographic contributions to the show: Images of a shroudlike mask (in collaboration with Annette Polan) and a weathered mannequin in Addis Ababa. Still, there are some quiet, straightforward portraits, firmly within the boundaries of the genre that Day’s choices aim to push. Just because they don’t require a dressing down doesn’t make them any less mysterious.
Noises Off is a comfort food type of comedy. It doesn’t change too much from staging to staging; even the set, which needs to hew to a particular layout to make the slapstick jokes work, stays the same. So who cares if it’s the mac and cheese of theater? Knowing what you’re going to get doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it any less. Michael Frayn’s play is a show within a show: A terrible British sex farce called Nothing On, within a play about the backstage rumblings of the doomed production as it devolves into total catastrophe. After romantic liaisons between them are revealed, the jealous cast members try to sabotage one another and spoil the performance, to the great chagrin of director Lloyd Dallas (Jim Jorgenson).There’s a delight in watching good actors play very bad ones, particularly the character of Brooke Ashton (Brianna Letourneau), the airhead who is incapable of improvisation, no matter how far the production gets off track. Her turn as Brooke playing Vicky in “Nothing On,” is like noodles and sauce: the cheesier, the better.