- Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet is the third in Tarell McCraney's play cycle about families. (Photo: Scott Suchman)
A sweet coming-of-age story, with a different definition of "sweet": In the Louisiana bayou town where 16-year-old Marcus (J. Mal McCree) lives, it's a euphemism for gay, and the teenager grapples with his sexuality and family history in the days before a certain tropical storm hits. The third in a cycle of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney about family dynamics, Marcus gently explores a teenager's acceptance of his sexuality while he strives to learn if it's a trait he's inherited from his father. The teens of Marcus, which include his two best friends Osha and Shaunta Lyun (Rachael Holmes and Shannon A.L. Dorsey) are refreshingly naive, and for that, they endure heartbreak. But McCraney handles them with care and humor – particularly in his stylistic choice to have characters speak their stage directions with their lines (Shaunta Lyun: "Shaunta kisses her teeth." Then, she does.) But as the air hangs thick with the humidity of the coming storm, and the anticipation of secrets to be revealed, McCree's Marcus is the epitome of poise: A young man of whom the father he never knew could be proud.
Playwright Peter Coy examines the impact of war on families in two parallel stories: That of a South-will-rise-again rebel and his rebellious daughter in 1907, and a young couple who, expecting their first child, deal with the soon-to-be father's traumatic childhood. William Ruffin (Mark A. Rhea, who looks eerily like Jeff Bridges in True Grit) kills a young man when his daughter Grace (Emily Levey) claims that he raped her, but her story doesn't line up. As William and Grace try to extract themselves from their dire situations, his wife Caroline (Sheri S. Herren) waits idly for him to reclaim the farm that he lost through drinking and gambling. Fast-forward to 2007, history teacher Tyler (Michael Innocenti) reveals a dark secret about his childhood to his pregnant wife Kathy (Shannon Listol), and proceeds to lose his mind so quickly that the effect is almost comical. Kathy and the rest of the women in the play are written to be such cowards that they hardly deserve sympathy. Add stilted dialogue fraught with melodrama, and you're left with a play so heavy-handed that most of the lines are either shouted or choked out through tears. Honor, by Coy's design, is nowhere to be found.
Let Me Down Easy is about healthcare, but really it's about dying: dying with dignity, dying from lack of care, knowing you're about to die, nearly dying, and most of all, dying comfortably. Because as the title of Anna Deveare Smith's one-woman show alludes, that's all we want: to slip into the unknown in the least traumatic way imaginable. The subjects that Deveare Smith interviewed and impersonates in her documentary-style play have all been touched by it, either in their own struggles against cancer or traumatic injury, or through their professional trials as a healthcare provider, or as a spiritual guide, reassuring people about what comes next at the last stages of their life. Some of Deveare Smith's subjects are famous – her Lance Armstrong impersonation is not altogether flattering, but her Lauren Hutton, Eve Ensler and Gov. Ann Richards of Texas are kicky and charming – but beyond the boldfaced names are where the best stories lie. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, a physician in one of New Orleans' poorest hospitals, describes the abandonment she feels on a daily basis from her residents, who put in their time without compassion for their underprivileged patients, and then the abandonment she felt from the government, which didn't assist the hospital for days after Hurricane Katrina. Trudy Howell, who runs an orphanage in South Africa, describes how she tells a child he or she is about to die of AIDS. You might notice that I didn't say, "Deveare Smith, as Trudy Howell," because Deveare Smith so deftly chameleons from character to character that we lose sense of her altogether. But even though Let Me Down Easy espouses few unknown truths about the healthcare system, members of congress would benefit from a viewing before taking to the floor to debate for a symbolic healthcare repeal, because what Deveare Smith actually teaches is the meaning of dignity – in care, in death, in life.
Devised theater company Bright Alchemie set out to learn the answer to the question, "What purpose do creation myths serve?" They learned that the answer is to show us how we're all connected, whether we were created at the hands of a coyote or an explosion of gases. Naomi, a precocious 16-year-old, communicates online with a motley group of science nerds and hackers on the SETI site, where they debate the origin of the universe, the existence of life on other planets, and the strange dreams about Naomi's Native American grandfather that plague her. Meanwhile, in the offline world, Naomi's been neglected by her too-busy parents, takes a variety of mood-stabilizing pharmaceuticals, and hasn't interacted with real humans in days. The computer both narrows and expands her world, helping her answer philosophical questions far more advanced than most 16-year-olds wonder, leading her further and further into uncertainty. Megan Reichelt is plucky and sarcastic as Naomi, though the dialogue teeters on the verge of being too Diablo Cody LOL-clever for its own good ("I don't know if I can 'insert unquantifiable action word here,'" says Naomi to her internet friends, who are known to speak the words, "Sad face."). Creation myths don't have a moral, but this one does: No matter how we were created, human beings are there for each other, whether via a high-speed internet connection, or a simple touch.
Friday and Saturday: The National Players, The Scarlet Letter and A Midsummer Night's Dream
The homegrown National Players are Olney's touring troupe, but they're always on the go, so the chance to see them in at their home base comes but a few times a year. This week, the National Players will be presenting their touring productions of The Scarlet Letter and A Midsummer Night's Dream for the very low price of pay-what-you-can. The shows are lean – all cast members not only play multiple roles, but also work as crew members, doing their own lighting, costumes and sound. Their stop at Olney is just a two day homecoming – after that, they're headed off to Uniontown, Penn., and won't be back until May.
In the exhibition essay for Debt, "Andy Moon Wilson has described one of his goals as an artist as 'wanting to make a drawing that will make a person throw up' from its visual intensity." Thankfully, the first part of that goal is not met in the show, which juxtaposes Moon Wilson's intricately-patterned works with Governeur's; The former, tiny works on paper, and the latter, large works on canvas. Both have a similar hypnotic effect, exploring patterns as both spiritual expression, and expressionistic restraint.
Tuesday through Thursday: American Ballet Theater at the Kennedy Center
America's most diplomatic ballet corps returns to the Kennedy Center in celebration of the arts center's namesake. The American Ballet Theater, though based in New York, is linked to Washington through its State Department-sponsored performances in other countries. As part of The Presidency of John F Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, ABT will perform works that were selected as the Kennedy family's favorite. Camelot was a big fan of Balanchine: The company will be performing a mixed repertory program of Balanchine's Theme and Variations, Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas, Balanchine's Duo Concertant, and Robbins's Fancy Free.