New theatrical offerings include “A Strange Loop” on Broadway, the National Capital New Play Festival, “Drumfolk” at Arena and “Grace” at Ford’s Theater
With fingers crossed and a Panglossian belief that this can be the best of all possible theatrical worlds, here is my careful curation of what will be worth it in a season perhaps this time around.
‘The merchant of Venice’
To stage this Shakespearian problem play is tantamount to a provocation these days. That’s why I’m deeply curious to see what the Shakespeare Theater Company and director Arin Arbus have in mind in bringing it to us in these troubled times. It has the added and considerable value of the ever impactful John Douglas Thompson as Shylock, a black actor and a casting choice that not only introduces compelling theatrical weight, but also the intersectional issue of race. It is a co-production with Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience.
The merchant of Venice March 22-April 17 at the Michael R. Klein Theater, 450 Seventh St. NW. shakespearetheatre.org.
Broadway’s most intriguing new musical this season is both an incentive and an experience: What is Times Square’s appetite for musical theater that innovates and inspires audiences to explore new modes of storytelling? Fresh from a smash tryout at DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theater, Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning show is a fun psychological mirror, exploring the mind, angst and sexual aspirations of a theater usher. black queer named… Usher. Jaquel Spivey makes an exciting Broadway debut as Usher and director Stephen Brackett – who also directed the adorable ‘AD 16’ at the Olney Theater Center – ushers the whole company in three dynamic dimensions.
National Capital New Play Festival
This inaugural festival of original works of repertoire propels the Round House Theater into the admirable ranks of companies pouring additional resources into new dramas. The festival includes full productions of “It’s Not a Journey, It’s a Journey” by Charly Evon Simpson, directed by Nicole A. Watson, and “We Pronounce You a Terrorist…” by Tim J. Lord, with co-director Jared Mezzocchi and Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette. Offerings will also include readings of new works by playwrights Marvin González de León, Morgan Gould, Mary Kathryn Nagle and Mfoniso Udofia, in collaboration with composer Nehemiah Luckett.
National Capital New Play Festival April 5-May 8 at the Round House Theater, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. roundhousetheatre.org.
“How I Learned to Drive”
The season’s most interesting acting couple is a reunion: David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker, reunited again in that searing Pulitzer-winning play they performed off Broadway in 1997. Paula’s work Vogel is a delicate treatment of a volatile subject that has become even more incendiary: the relationship between a teenage girl and her abusive uncle. Twenty-five years later, Morse and Parker join director Mark Brokaw for the anticipated Broadway debut of this powerful memoir, produced by Manhattan Drama Club.
How I learned to drive begins performances March 29 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 W. 47th St., New York. download.com.
Eugène Ionesco’s comedy of 1959, cornerstone of the absurd theatrical movement and denunciation of conformism in all its political and social manifestations, is rarely revived today. This state of affairs never seems to bother Pointless Theater Co., a group of drama stylists who love to stage the modernist classics they studied in college. Previous inspirations for their visually stimulating aesthetic have been as diverse as Peter Tchaikovsky, Dadaism and Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero. What they do with a satire translated and directed by Frank Labovitz that forces the actors to turn into horned behemoths will no doubt be something to experience.
“John Proctor is the villain”
Kimberly Belflower’s world premiere at the Studio Theater explores the storms that unleashed after a high school English class in Georgia encountered Arthur Miller’s seminal drama ‘The Crucible’ and the students were shrouded in scandal in their time. Marti Lyons directs the work for Belflower, who herself hails from rural Georgia and received a 2018 playwriting award from the Kennedy Center for her drama “Lost Girl.”
John Proctor is the villain April 27-June 5 at the Studio Theater, 1501 14th St. NW. studiotheatre.org.
Food is the music of love in this first musical at Ford’s Theater with a score by Nolan Williams Jr. and a book by Williams and Nikkole Salter. It centers on a black family in Philadelphia, mourning the death of their matriarch and struggling with the future of their restaurant in a gentrifying neighborhood. It is directed and choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming.
Grace March 19-May 14 at Ford’s Theater, 511 10th St. NW. fords.org.
For those (like me) who weren’t crazy about director Joel Coen’s emotionally static “The Tragedy of Macbeth” starring Denzel Washington and Francis McDormand, Broadway offers an alternative that just might top it for Shakespearian brawn: a “Macbeth.” with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga as the overflowing thane and his Lady M. Craig is back under the direction of director Sam Gold, who directed a gripping “Othello” in 2016 with Craig and David Oyelowo, and followed a year later with a wall-smashing fourth “Hamlet” with Oscar Isaac.
The Gibbs and Webb families, the eternal conveyors of Thornton Wilder’s circle of small-town New England life, arrive on the Washington stage as the Shakespeare Theater Company expands its quest to define a canon American classic. Alan Paul leads a cast of “Our Town” whose announced actors represent the wealth of DC’s acting community: among them, Holly Twyford, Craig Wallace, Natascia Diaz, Felicia Curry, Tom Story, Sarah Marshall, Kimberly Schraf, Suzanne Richard, Christopher Michael Richardson and Eric Hissom. Initially scheduled for February, the recovery is now set for mid-spring.
Stage Africa!, the 28-year-old DC dance company, has toured more than 60 countries. Now he’s bringing his ecstatic steps to Arena Stage for the first of three productions, a collaboration that underscores Arena’s laudable commitment to the capital’s art makers. “Drumfolk” is inspired by both the Stono Rebellion of 1739, a slave uprising in South Carolina, and the law enacted a year later that prohibited enslaved black people from gathering in public.
Tambourine May 31-June 26 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. arenastage.org.