As part of its inaugural Locally Grown Festival Theater J is presenting the world premiere of The Hampton Years. Written by Jacqueline E. Lawton and directed by Shirley Serotsky, The Hampton Years explores the development of African-American artists, John Biggers and Samella Lewis while under the tutelage of Austrian Jewish refugee painter and educator, Viktor Lowenfeld during their time at Hampton Institute – now Hampton University - during WWII. As the play unfolds it reveals the dreams and travails of young artists in a still segregated society while examining the impact of World War II on a Jewish immigrant and his wife finding shelter in the US and his controversial influence in shaping the careers of African American students. The Hampton Years runs through June 30.
Archive for theater
Modify. Transform. Adopt. Convert. All of them are simple words with often complicated implications. In the play The Convert written by Danai Gurira and directed by Michael John Garcés at Wooly Mammoth Theatre the complications are made clear and real.
Set in 1895 amid the colonial scramble for Southern Africa, the play follows Jekesai, a young girl who escapes village life and a forced marriage arrangement, ultimately discovering Christianity under the guidance of an African teacher. However, as anti-colonial sentiments rise to a boiling point, Jekesai must choose between her new European God and the spirits of her ancestors.
The Convert runs February 13 through March 10. In addition to performances, there is a series of discussions and activities to complement the show.
The fall 2012 arts season will bring a breath of fresh air to the Washington theater community, and also a number of works featuring African American actors. With a mixture of dramas and musicals, familiar favorites and new work, offerings that appeal to old and young, several theaters are offering five very good reasons to visit them during the first half of their season.
Ralph Ellison’s groundbreaking novel that shined a penetrating light on race in America, Invisible Man, first published in 1952, has been adapted for the stage by Oren Jacoby and opens September 5 at the Studio Theatre. The show was first mounted last season at the Court Theatre in Chicago receiving tremendous praise and attention from audiences and became the highest grossing drama in that theaters history. The Studio Theatre production is the Washington area’s premier and is being directed by Christopher McElroen, a co-founder of the Classical Theatre of Harlem.
In late September Fly, written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan lands on the stage of Ford’s Theater. Directed by Mr. Khan, Fly explores the lives of four Tuskegee Airmen that helped to break barriers of segregation in the United States military during World War II. Fly is the second in a series of productions being presented through the Lincoln Legacy Project, an initiative by Ford’s Theater to use the stage in fostering dialogue around the issues of tolerance, equality and acceptance.
As the holiday season approaches, the musical reigns supreme. Arena Stage makes your foot tap and soul sing with the world premier of Pullman Porter Blues, written by Cheryl L. West, who also wrote Before It Hits Home, Jar the Floor and Holiday Heart. In Pullman Porter Blues three generations of men from the Sykes family are all porters on a train heading from Chicago to New Orleans in June 1937 and the audience gets to take that ride with them on a journey through conversations about race, hope and reality, laced with 14 original and classic blues songs.
The Broadway musical that made stars out of Jennifer Holiday, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine and an Oscar winner of Jennifer Hudson, for her film portrayal of Effie White, Dreamgirls comes to the Signature Theatre in November. An exciting score that everyone can sing along to with characters in search of success and love that everyone can relate to, Dreamgirls is an American theater jewel that always shines.
And because theater is truly for everyone, children can’t be left out. Imagination Stage’s popular production of P.Nokio: A Hip-Hop Musical will run again from September 29 – October 18. A modern take on the tale of Pinocchio with a hip-hop twist, P. Nokio learns the power of truth. Through fun music, rhymes and dance it is an incredible lesson any kid can cheer about and it is a great introduction to the theater for young arts lovers in the making.
The most exciting arrival on Pennsylvania Avenue NW since President Obama was welcomed to his new home in January 2009 took place last night July 12 with the opening party for Del Frisco’s Grille. Obama brought an excitement and fresh vibe to the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue and following his lead Del Frisco’s is doing the same for the 1200 block. With a tasty menu of what owners are calling “a modern twist on the classic bar and grill” they have brought some excitement to the dining and bar options in an area that had been longing for something fresh. Del Frisco’s is certain to become a favorite for the lawyers, lobbyists and public servants that work in the surrounding blocks and now have a new place to play. It is a perfect addition to the neighborhood.
As Washington, DC prepares to host the first International AIDS Conference in the United States in twenty years in July, Arena Stage is bringing HIV/AIDS center stage with their production of Tony award winning play, The Normal Heart written by Larry Kramer and directed by Tony winner George C. Wolfe. Set in a time not that long ago, at the onset of the AIDS epidemic, according to press notes the play takes raw look at “a circle of friends that struggle to contain the mysterious disease ravaging New York’s gay community. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart – or change the world.” The Normal Heart runs at Arena through July 29.
Sitting at any Passover Seder is a meaningful experience. Sitting at a Passover Seder with two newly-freed slaves in Richmond, Virginia in 1865 brings new dynamics to that experience. This is just what is occurring when the intricate stories begin to unfold in The Whipping Man, written by Matthew Lopez and directed by Jennifer Nelson, now playing at Theater J in Washington, DC. The two former slaves and the son of their former master explore slavery, secrets and the souls of men. Reviewers and crowds have applauded the production that runs through May 20.
This week a treasured venue of Washington, DC cultural life will re-open its doors after a $29 million dollar renovation. The stage of the historic Howard Theatre where the careers of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and many others were launched has been restored her glory. It is only fitting that the new generation of performers who will be presented at the venue are direct descendants of such legacy. Acts booked in coming weeks include Wale, Chaka Khan, Yaasin Bey and The Roots.
As important as the music being performed in the venue is the fine detail in the resurrection of the external façade of the building and the newly unveiled statue of Duke Ellington that sits outside. The statue is a captures the spirit of the most remarkable cultural ambassador and favorite son of the District. Inside and out the Howard Theatre gives Washingtonians an opportunity to pay homage to the music of yesterday and the artists of today.
Anthony Manough is a Howard University alum experiencing a homecoming all his own. A native Washingtonian, who trained at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts before attending Howard University, he is an accomplished stage actor who has traveled the world honing his craft. His credits include Disney’s The Lion King, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Songs for a New World and taking on the role of Dromio in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare Festival/LA.
But now this soulful son of Washington has returned as a featured artist to play the leading role in the Howard University Department of Theatre Arts production of Passing Strange alongside current Howard students with dreams of going where has already gone in his career. It is a fitting production for his return.
Written by Stew and Heidi, Passing Strange is a funky and fun semi-autobiographical musical about a young Black man who grows up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1970’s who flees all that he has been taught in hopes that he’ll truly learn about himself and relearn about the world around him. Thoughtful dialogue and roaring and passionate songs move the audience with him through the show and his journey that takes him throughout Europe before he realizes where home is and how to define him.
The production of Passing Strange at Howard University is the first by a college or university. The show is directed by Eric Ruffin, with musical direction by Darius Smith and choreography by Princess Mhoon Cooper. Passing Strange will be performed in the Ira Aldridge Theater, Wednesday-Saturday, February 29, 2012 – March 10, 2012. Discount tickets are available for seniors and Howard alumni.
In Act I Craig Wallace in the role of Frederick Douglass states it plain that ‘emancipation is not abolition’ and that he believes the Civil War is being fought for several reasons but the abolition of slavery and full equality of Negro people isn’t one of them. The drama unfolds from there, in the world premiere staging of Necessary Sacrifices, a work written by Richard Hellesen and commissioned by the Ford’s Theatre Society as a part of their Lincoln Legacy Project. The goal of the five year artistic and educational initiative is to spark dialogue and engage people of different viewpoints in thoughtful discussions around issues of tolerance and understanding.
The script by Hellesen brings just that, two differing viewpoints about the cause and lasting effects of the Civil War on the United States and all that dwell within. Necessary Sacrifices takes artistic license and allows the audience to sit inside the office of Abraham Lincoln in the summers of 1863 and 1864 – during the height of the Civil War – and watch what the two of the documented meetings between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, wonderfully played by David Selby may have been like. The production is truly about the script and the ideas and challenges that both men wrestled with. Lincoln was charged with holding together a young nation during the most difficult time it had ever faced, rooted in deep feelings about dealing with a very difficult political and social issue. As the President of the United States he walked a thin line balancing his beliefs with those of his advisors, politicos and even the Constitution. During several scenes it weighs heavy on Lincoln as he explains to Douglass that unlike most men, he doesn’t have the burden to worry about just his house, for his responsibility is to be accountable for all the homes in America. Lincoln offers at one point, “what I believe is secondary to what I must do.’
Douglass still challenges Lincoln to act swiftly and with strength to use his executive powers to bring about change rather than wait for it. Ironically, when Douglass made his visits to the President’s office, he was just miles away from where he once lived as a young slave. Lincoln and Douglass were two distinctly different men with often two different answers to the questions of why, how and when as it related to the Civil War but the playwright suggests that over time they did both agree on an answer of a ‘what’ for the end of the Civil War.
The minimal set, lighting and flow in direction provided by Jennifer L. Nelson create an appropriate incubator for the thoughts and themes to live and grow on stage and in the minds of the audience. Sprinkled with humor and good storytelling the script lends itself well particularly to Selby who has played Lincoln before at Ford’s Theatre with great acclaim.
Necessary Sacrifices runs through February 18. Following the production, on February 21 the Ford’s Theatre Campus will open the Center for Education and Leadership. Located directly across the street from the theatre, the Center will feature several floors of permanent and rotating exhibits that look at Lincoln’s death and evolving legacy.
While winter and its cold temperatures have set in throughout Washington, two stage performances are coming to the area to warm things up. For one weekend only, January 26 -29 the touring company of the Broadway musical Fela! which examines the life of legendary musician and cultural figure Fela Anikulapo Kutiwill play the Warner Theater. The following weekend, February 3 and 4 the dynamic company of Step Afrika! will play three shows at Sidney Harman Hall. Step Afrika!, the first professional company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping. Both shows are full of fire!