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Profane and profound

Drew Cortese, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, Studio Theatre, the Motherfucker With the Hat, gay news, Washington Blade, theater

Drew Cortese, left, and Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey in Studio’s ‘The Motherfucker With the Hat.’ (Photo by Teddy Wolff; courtesy Studio)

‘The Motherfucker With the Hat’
Through March 10
Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW

“The Motherfucker with the Hat’s” catchy title is mild when compared to its dialogue. Yes, the characters in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ latest play like their language raw (don’t even try to count the f-bombs — you’d run out of fingers and toes within minutes) and very often hilarious. But there’s nothing stilted about what’s being said onstage. Guirgis faithfully channels the words of their world, allowing these hardcore New Yorkers to tell their stories in their own way and it couldn’t be more authentic.

Now playing at Studio Theatre, “Hat” kicks off with Veronica (Rosal Colón), a 30-ish Nuyorican spitfire talking on the phone with her mom while cleaning her grungy studio apartment and doing the occasional line of cocaine. Veronica advises her mother to drop her new no good man who has a head like fish, saying, “Take a moment. Take a breath. Take a real good look and just ax yourself in all honesty, ‘Do I wanna fuck him or fry him up with a little adobo and paprika?’” Instantly, we know this girl — not terribly eloquent, but makes her point, and her heart is in the right place.

Enter Veronica’s longtime boyfriend Jackie (the excellent Drew Cortese) bearing good news. A newly sober parolee who’s recently finished a two year stint upstate for dealing drugs, Jackie has just landed a job with UPS. But what was supposed to be a celebratory evening of Carvel ice cream cake, lovemaking and movies for the passionate couple goes awry when he spies an unfamiliar hat in the apartment — a dark fedora, plain except for a small fiery red feather on the side. He suspects infidelity. A huge fight ensues, and Jackie, unsure whether to seek wisdom at an A.A. meeting or revenge, storms out.

His support system — such as it is — consists of his best friend and AA sponsor Ralph (Quentin Maré), a charmingly slimy guru-wannabe who runs a successful health drink startup with his also sober but embittered wife Victoria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey). And while Ralph talks a lot of self-improvement, in his defense, he never claims to have anything to offer anyone other than sobriety. And then there’s Jackie’s seemingly gay cousin Julio (smartly underplayed Liche Ariza), a fastidious foodie/bodybuilder who’s married to a woman and harbors a secret passion for violence. Typically Jackie goes to him only when he needs something.

A wordy two hours without an intermission, “Hat” could potentially be tedious, but it’s not. Director Serge Seiden, who is gay, keeps things moving at a brisk clip. He also maintains an enviable balance of laughs and pathos. Debra Booth’s set is nicely subtle and serviceable — it works well, but never gets in the way. And the terrific five-person ensemble cast is especially strong. Each of the actors brilliantly embodies the play’s message: people aren’t always what they seem.

Without warning, Guirgis’ agile writing turns sharply from insults and slams to moments of stunning poignancy. When a drunken Jackie shows up at Veronica’s apartment eager to punish her for hurting him, she responds with her own hurt, reminding him of their shared dreams of children, a home in Yonkers, a future — all crushed by bad timing, poor decisions and drugs. Or when cousin Julio’s bouncy walk down memory lane morphs into an explanation of why he remains so very loyal to Jackie, citing a heartfelt memory from his early outcast adolescence when Jackie had his back. Heartbreaking moments.

A native of York City’s Upper West Side, the playwright is known for using the neighborhood’s urban mix in his work; and with “Hat,” an interesting cross section of these foul-mouthed, angry but hopeful, hurting and seriously funny folks are present and accounted for. They’re damaged people, in pain, masking hurt with bravado and humor, looking for love and trying to find their way.

“Hat” is a resonant play and Studio’s deeply affecting, always engaging production is alternately stinging and poignant.


Lights out, fun begins

Rex Daugherty, Jefferson Farber, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's R&J, Signature Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Two students (Rex Daugherty, left, and Jefferson Farber) get caught up in their reading of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in ‘Shakespeare’s R&J,’ now playing at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through March 3. (Photo by Teresa Wood, courtesy Signature)

‘Shakespeare’s R&J’
Through March 3
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington

It’s not a bong or porn. The contraband hidden beneath the dorm floorboards in this Catholic boys’ prep school is a nicely bound copy of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In a repressed world where every movement is dictated by a bell’s toll and days are filled with rote recitations of Latin verb conjugations and catechism, it seems escaping into the play is the thing. So, each night after lights out, four teenage boys whip out their flashlights and energetically act out the bard’s torrid tale of star-crossed young lovers.

“Shakespeare’s R&J” now playing at Signature Theatre, is a play within a play — both a male adolescent coming of age story and an edited version of the classic. Like the horny teenagers in the original text, the heat between R&J’s Romeo, the poetically ardent Student 1 (Alex Mills) and his determined Juliet, Student 2 (Jefferson Farber) is real. The lovers’ recognition of attraction — definitely the play’s most powerful moment — is followed by plenty of kisses and contact. Effectively divvying up the remainder of the parts are Student 3 (Joel David Santner) and Student 4 (Rex Daugherty) who is particularly uncomfortable with his schoolmates’ raging same-sex romance and does what he can to stop it.

Staged by “R&J’s” author Joe Calarco (who is gay), the production (Signature’s first-ever in the round) is beautiful to watch. Impeccably rehearsed, the appealingly boyish cast moves nonstop with manic energy and teenage boy horseplay, while never missing a cue or bit of business. James Kronzer’s impressively spare-yet-rich wood set is gorgeously lit by Chris Lee who slyly creates Verona’s romantic lattices, shadows and misty rain showers without a drop of water.

As the four students become increasingly involved in the play, they shed their jackets, ties, sweater vests and inhibitions, taking their bodies and emotions far away from their stultifyingly structured days. And when they reach the end of the of Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy, will they return lockstep to a buttoned-down life of bells and indoctrination? Or will each choose his own way?

Though entirely unsubtle, “R&J’s” ending is undeniably affirming.

‘Black Comedy’
Through March 2
No Rules Theatre Company
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington

If you’re into farce, there’s a humdinger titled “Black Comedy” running concurrently next door in Signature’s more intimate ARK Theatre. Mounted by No Rules Theatre Company, the spirited production marks the beginning of an enviable three-year residency at Signature for the young company.

Penned by British playwright Peter Shaffer, the 1966 romp takes place mostly in the dark. Up-and-coming artist Brindsley (Jerzy Gwiazdowski) and his facile but connected girlfriend Carol (Kathryn Saffell) are planning a special gathering in which Brindsley will both meet Carol’s very conservative father Colonel Melkett (Matthew R. Wilson) and show his sculptures to a rich German art collector. But all goes wrong when the building’s main fuse blows leaving the hosts and their guests in total darkness. In the playwright’s brilliantly reversed conceit, the stage is illuminated when the lights are out, and is darkened when the lights are meant to be on, allowing us to see the awkwardness and hilarity of an evening spent without light.

All the usual farce stock players are on hand: In addition to the wily young man, dim debutante and her stuffy colonel father, there’s the spinster Miss Furnival (Lisa Hodsoll) who more than loosens up after accidentally downing a few drinks in the dark; Harold Gorringe (Brian Sutow), the campy gay neighbor with a penchant for old China and younger men; and a sensitive repairman with an eye for art. Also there’s Brindsley’s clever, ex-lover Clea (Dorea Schmidt), a part written by Shaffer especially for his pal Maggie Smith most presently of TV’s “Downton Abbey” fame.

The very able cast is game indeed, ready and willing to fall over chairs and bump into walls in the dark. There’s an especially wonderful mid-play sequence in which Gwiazdowski’s agility and physical comedy talents along with director Matt Cowart’s amusingly inventive staging are shown to best advantage. While guests exchange middle class mundanities, Gwiazdowski’s Brindsley moves a roomful of secretly borrowed furniture in the dark from his bohemian digs (compliments of John Bowhers) back to Gorringe’s piss elegant flat down the hall.

A review of “Black Comedy” demands a nod to Travis McHale for his marvelously upside down lighting: When candles are lit, stage lights dim. A shining flashlight makes things even darker.

The playwright Shaffer, who is gay, went on to write “Equus,” that disturbing drama about a boy and his obsession with horses, and the delightful comic-tragedy “Amadeus,” before being knighted in 2001. Though the LGBT experience isn’t central to his work, gay characters frequently appear in his plays.


Hormonal harmonies

Austin VanDyke Colby, Hanschen, David Landstrom, Ernst, Spring Awakening, Olney Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Austin VanDyke Colby, left, as Hanschen, and David Landstrom as Ernst in the awkward moment when they realize their feelings for each other in ‘Spring Awakening’ at Olney Theatre Center. (Photo by Stan Barouh; courtesy Olney)

‘Spring Awakening’
Through March 10
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, Md.

If any teenagers ever had a right to be sullen, rebellious and angsty, it’s the kids in “Spring Awakening,” the Tony-winning Broadway rock musical now playing at Olney Theatre Center.

Like German playwright Frank Wedekind’s scandalous 1891 drama from which it’s adapted, the musical deals straightforwardly with sexual initiation, masturbation, teen pregnancy, botched abortion, homosexuality, physical abuse, sadomasochism and incest. And its young characters, almost all who are grappling with fears and questions about their burgeoning sexuality, are simply dismissed. They’re told by uptight, status-quo towing parents to hush up and follow rules.

Luckily, it’s a rock musical, so these stifled kids can let their emotions explode and reveal their inner voices through Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s memorable score whose tunes range from ballad to raging punk rock with names like “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked.” And though the show is set in Wedekind’s era, its score, the way its musical numbers are performed (well-mannered German school boys transform into untamed rock stars), and Sam Pinkleton’s convulsive, high jumping choreography, are wholly current.

The action begins with Wendla (Alyse Alan Louis) wearing the last of her childish frocks (compliments of top notch costume designer Sarah Beers). She pulls a very dour face and snaps a millionth self-portrait with her cell phone. The technology is today but her early teen self-preoccupation is timeless. Yet despite her age and curiosity, she still doesn’t know where babies come from — a state of ignorance her mother is in no rush to change. In the poignant “Mama Who Bore Me,” Louis as Wendla beautifully laments her mother’s lack of caring.

Looking for understanding, Wendla finds solace with boyhood friend Melchior (the excellent Matthew Kacergis), a smart and freethinking young idealist who rejects middle class hypocrisy and doesn’t believe in a god. He’s attracted to thoughtful Wendla, and what’s more he knows how babies are made (at least on paper) and is eager to do some guilt free experimentation. The pair begin meeting in a nearby uncorrupted wood and a trusty hayloft (suggested by a raised platform, random metal buckets and some scattered straw).

Helen Hayes Award-winning actor Parker Drown (who is gay) plays Melchior’s sad friend Moritz Stiefel. Drown is heartbreakingly good as the nervous and inept sidekick who is routinely referred to as the neurasthenic moron by his unfeeling teachers. Drown continues to be a young actor to look out for.

Other standouts in this terrific young ensemble playing hapless victims, survivors and collaborators include Maggie Donnelly as plucky Ilse, a schoolgirl who’s run away from an abusive home and gone bohemian. By necessity she lives outside the confines of society. Currently she’s found shelter at the local artists’ colony. Also, props to the impressively named Austin VanDyke Colby who displays comic flare as smug Hanschen. Clad in a nightshirt, he rather realistically pleasures himself during a song aptly titled “My Junk”; and later, he effortlessly seduces his love-struck study partner Ernst (David Landstrom) as they “huddle over Homer.”

The stable of adult characters — all effectively played by Ethan Watermeier and Liz Mamana — are monolithically close-minded or wicked with the exception of Melchior’s mother who comes off as comparably progressive. But even with her, when things become hairy she quickly squirms back into the safety of her middleclass, reactionary shell.

Backed by the silhouette of ominous denuded trees, Adrian Jones set is an open expanse of institutionally tiled floor and some metal chairs — the kind found in 21st century classrooms. The action is framed in bright, colored lights, nicely echoing director Steve Cosson’s exciting concert like staging.

Olney’s isn’t the angriest, loudest or most punked out production of “Spring Awakening” that you’ll ever see, but it’s well acted and thoughtfully produced. It’s also a prime opportunity to hear the show’s marvelous score played by a superb Christopher Youstra-led 10-person orchestra and sung by a very solid cast whose every single word can be clearly heard. And that’s a rare and wonderful thing.


Opera: Girl drama

Angela Mead, Norma, Washington National Opera, gay news, Washington Blade

Angela Mead in a promo photo for ‘Norma.’ (Photo by Dario Acosta; courtesy WNO)

Kennedy Center Opera House
2700 F St., NW
Tickets: $25-$300

This spring at Washington National Opera, the fairer sex will be the talk of the capital’s operatic scene. From stars to directors and the repertoire itself, women rule the stage, with exciting company debuts as part of the stable.

First out of the gate, opening Saturday, is “Manon Lescaut,” starring Washington favorite Patricia Racette in the title role. Last seen on the Kennedy Center’s opera stage in 2011 for “Iphigenie en Tauride” and “Tosca,” Racette (a lesbian) will be tackling the role of Manon Lescaut for the first time in the revival of gay director John Pascoe’s 2007 production.

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Patricia Racette in the title role for ‘Manon Lescaut.’ (Photo by Cory Weaver; courtesy WNO)

Written by Giacomo Puccini and premiered in 1893, “Manon Lescaut” was a risky undertaking for the composer. Almost a decade earlier, Frenchman Jules Massenet had unveiled a wildly popular version of the same story, simply titled “Manon.” Up to this point in his career, Puccini hadn’t been particularly successful, but “Manon Lescaut” put Puccini on the operatic map.

For many of his operas, Puccini’s heroine is the crux of the drama, and “Manon Lescaut” set the bar for this winning equation. At the opera’s start, the young and achingly beautiful Manon is on her way to a convent at her family’s insistence. Her carriage stops in a small town for a rest, where she meets the young and handsome Des Grieux. After he professes his undying love for her, she decides to run away with him, whether for love or a convenient escape is up for debate.

At the start of the second act, time has passed and Manon has cashed in her chips for money and comfort instead of love. She’s now the kept woman of an older wealthy man, and although she has everything she could ever dream of, she pines for Des Grieux. Eventually, the young pair manages to reconnect with disastrous results, including an appropriately operatic death scene for Manon.

One of the greatest tests of an operatic soprano is the titular role of “Norma.” Divas from Rosa Ponselle to Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland have made the Druid priestess their calling card, and now, rising soprano Angela Meade steps up to the plate for her first full production of this titanic role.

Audiences and critics have long been anticipating this moment with a mixture of hopeful curiosity and timidity. In July of 2010, Meade sang the role in a concert version, and while the reviews were generally kind, many felt it was too much too soon for the young soprano. Cut to February 2012 when a more seasoned Meade, on the heels of winning the Beverly Sills Artist Award, received glittering notices for her performance at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s “Ernani.” Starting March 9, the soprano makes another run at Norma in a new production, directed by out theater and opera director Anne Bogart.

“Norma” is a tale of betrayed love and, ultimately, redemption, headed by the priestess of the title. The ancient Celts, under Roman occupation, are biding their time to destroy the southern interlopers until Norma gives her consent.

She’s been delaying, though, because she’s fallen deeply in love with the Roman general and has secretly born him two children.

As men are wont to do, the Roman falls in love with another priestess, leaving Norma in the emotional lurch. The opera ends in a spectacularly heartbreaking climax between Norma, her former lover and her father who is shocked to learn of Norma’s transgression. Written by Vincenzo Bellini and premiered in 1831, “Norma” has persevered in the repertoire because of its interpreters. This spring, we’ll see if Angela Meade makes it her own.

Later in spring, comes the final offering of the opera’s season, the American musical “Show Boat,” a piece that has long straddled the line between opera and musical theater. This new production, opening May 4, will be directed by Washington National Opera’s new artistic director, Francesca Zambello, who started her tenure as artistic director in January.

Jerome Kern’s musical masterpiece features songs that have become woven into America’s cultural identity, including the show stopping “Ol’ Man River.” Zambello, who is gay, is no stranger to Washington’s operatic stage, having directed much of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the company along with another great American opera “Porgy and Bess.”


Theater: Stories and stages

Edward Gero, Nancy Opel, Ford Theatre, Hello Dolly, gay news

Edward Gero and Nancy Opel in Ford Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Hello Dolly.’ (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy Ford’s)

For local LGBT theatergoers, the spring season promises a wide selection of both fresh and familiar offerings, some light and others more compelling.

At Arena Stage, Robert O’Hara is directing “The Mountaintop” (March 29-May12), playwright Katori Hall’s “bold reimagining of the last night of the historic life of Dr. Martin Luther King.” Talented, multifaceted and gay, O’Hara is currently playwright in residence at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Arena ( is also mounting gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s newest play “Other Desert Cities” (April 26-May 26). While spending Christmas at the beige Palm Springs home of her aging Reaganite power couple parents, fragile adult daughter Brooke drops a bomb — she’s writing a tell-all memoir. Complications ensue. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley compared “Other Desert Cities” to sophisticated plays from the past. It’s like those “literate, thoughtful, well-tailored topical dramas in which people spoke with a fluency, wittiness and sense of timing we only wished we could command in real life.”

This spring will age MaryBeth Wise far beyond her years. She’s cast to play Mary in Round House Theatre’s ( production of “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” (April 10-May 5), playwright Bill Cain’s autobiographical work about a man who returns home to care for his dying mother. “It’s kind of a memory play,” says Wise, who is gay. “My part requires going from age 40 to 80, and back and forth.” She predicts a “funny and intense journey.” Ryan Rilette is directing.

Triple threat Bobby Smith will be spending a lot of time at Arlington’s Signature Theatre ( in the coming months. First, Smith (who is gay) plays Peter, a possibly gay man living happily with ex-wife Susan in Eric Schaeffer’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” (May 21-June 30), the award-winning musical about a marriage-phobic bachelor’s search for meaning. The show’s spectacular score includes “Being Alive,” “Side By Side,” “Little Things You Do Together,” “Another Hundred People” and “Ladies Who Lunch.”

And this summer, Smith is evil Richard Riddle in Signature’s “Spin,” a world premiere musical based on a Korean cult classic titled “Speedy Scandal.” Smith describes his character as a sort of Rex Reed-style gossip columnist villain.

At MetroStage ( in Alexandria, John Vreeke is directing “Ghost Writer” (April 25-June 2). When a famed novelist drops dead mid-sentence, his typist, Myra (Susan Lynskey), continues writing his unfinished book as if taking dictation from the great beyond. MetroStage’s artistic director Carolyn Griffin says Vreeke, who is gay, is brilliant at finding “the perfect tone and balance for gemlike plays with delicate scripts in which very special relationships are portrayed.”

At Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill (, prolific gay set designer Tony Cisek is again collaborating with British director Robert Richmond — this time on Shakespeare’s gender bending comedy “Twelfth Night” (April 30-June 9). The cast features local favorites including Joshua Morgan (also gay) as Valentine, the gentleman attendant to Duke Orsino.

In Tysons Corner, 1st Stage ( is presenting gay playwright John Logan’s “Never the Sinner” (March 22-April 14), an erotically fraught telling of the real life Leopold and Loeb case in which a pair of affluent Chicago teenagers attempt to commit the perfect murder. The talented Jeremy Skidmore directs.

As part of the Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 (a month-long celebration of Scandinavian culture), Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre is presenting the U.S. premiere of “Fanny and Alexander” (March 7-9), its much ballyhooed stage adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s beautiful Oscar-winning feature film.

Also coming to the Kennedy Center: “The Guardsman” (May 25-June 23), a revival of the 1920s Broadway comedy hit that starred the famed married acting team Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne as game-playing newlywed actors. Known for years as the first family of the American theater, Lunt and Fontanne, both gay, were married primarily for reasons of business and friendship. (

On the Ides of March, Ford’s Theatre (in co-production with Signature) is rolling out that musical comedy chestnut “Hello Dolly!” (March 15-May 18) ( Based on gay playwright Thornton Wilder’s comedy “The Matchmaker,” the 1964 fun musical boasts a memorable score by gay composer Jerry Herman that includes enduring tunes like “Before the Parade Passes By,” and, of course, “Hello, Dolly!” The title role — most notably performed by Carol Channing in New York and on tour for what seems several centuries, and Barbra Streisand on the silver screen — will be played by Broadway veteran Nancy Opel. Terrific local actor Edward Gero is cast as Dolly’s grumpy romantic quarry Horace Vandergelder. Signature’s gay artistic director Eric Schaeffer is directing.

Philip Fletcher is taking on the lead role of the wronged Prospero in Synetic Theater’s ( “The Tempest” (through March 24), the ninth installment of the fabulously innovative movement based company’s “Silent Shakespeare” series. Fletcher, who’s gay, won a Helen Hayes Award for his outstanding supporting actor effort as one of three witches in Synetic’s “Macbeth.”

Olney Theatre Center ( is mounting Jeff Talbott’s racially charged comedy “The Submission” (May 9-June 9). Here’s the premise: Using the pen name Shaleeha G’ntamobi, a nascent gay white playwright writes a about a black family dealing with ghetto life. When his play is selected to be produced by a prestigious theater festival, the playwright hires a black actress to stand in for him. Guess what? Things don’t go smoothly.


Interrogating circumstances

Through Jan. 27
The Studio Theatre (Studio 2ndstage)
1501 14th Street, NW

Holly Twyford, Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, Contractions, Studio Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Holly Twyford (left) and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan in ‘Contractions.’ (Photo by Scott Suchmann; courtesy of Studio Theatre)

With “Contractions,” British playwright Mike Bartlett takes the horrors of corporate servitude to the nth degree.

Now making its American premiere at Studio 2ndStage, Bartlett’s workplace satire is laugh-out-loud funny and menacingly dark at once. It unfolds through a series of increasingly uncomfortable meetings in which Emma (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan), a newly hired sales professional at an unnamed corporation, is relentlessly and methodically questioned by a bizarrely inquisitive manager (Holly Twyford). Both clad in sleek black suits (pants for the manager and skirts for Emma) and super-high heels, the pair review employee regulations giving special attention to the sections pertaining to romantic and sexual relationships among employees.

Any suspicions that the manager’s obsessive inquiry into the most minute details of Emma’s sex life is driven by prurient interests or perhaps her lustful designs on the new, younger employee are rather quickly put to rest when it becomes abundantly clear that her every move — even the most perverse — are done to benefit the company’s bottom line.

More and more, the manager’s inquiries and directives grow ludicrously outrageous. Initially Emma is her superior’s match, but not for long. Volleys build into one-sided brutal attacks and it’s soon evident that Emma can’t compete with a company-backed opponent. After being frequently reminded about the sluggish job market and that there are more than a hundred applicants ready and willing to fill her corporate position, Emma surrenders to HR’s demands. She devolves from confident and sexy to broken and bereft. At one point, Emma asks the heartless boss if she bleeds. And while we never get that answer, we do become acquainted with some of Emma’s bodily fluids. And no wonder with the battering she goes through.

British director Duncan Macmillan ably helms the top-notch production and Twyford and Wilmoth Keegan both deliver knockout performances. With a frozen smile, glazed eyes and hilariously placed pauses, Twyford (who is gay) is at the top of her game as the corporate automaton. Wilmoth Keegan is equally terrific and wonderfully natural as Emma.

“Contractions” is not the first time Twyford and Wilmoth Keegan have successfully joined forces. In the fall of 2011, Wilmoth Keegan played the victim of a brutal gay bashing in “Stop Kiss,” Diane Son’s play about women friends turned lovers. The well-received No Rules Theatre Company production marked Twyford’s directorial debut.

Bartlett, the playwright, is best known for “Cock,” his hit play (in London and New York) about a happily partnered gay man who falls in love with a woman.

“Contractions” is set entirely in the manager’s stark office. Designed by Luciana Stecconi, it’s a minimalist’s wet dream: white walls, white floors, white light (compliments of Colin K. Bills), and two white office chairs positioned at opposite ends of a long, white conference table. Discreetly built-in cabinets contain scarily detailed personnel files. No clutter. No art. No signs of life at all really. It’s a sterile space, perfectly suited for surgically excising what makes an employee human.


In the ‘loop’

Stefanie Powers, gay news, Washington Blade

Actress Stefanie Powers is set to fill in for Valerie Harper on a revival of ‘Looped.’ (Photo courtesy of the Hippodrome)

Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominee Stefanie Powers plays actress Tallulah Bankhead in the comedy “Looped” starting Tuesday at 8 p.m. until March 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hippodrome (12 North Eutaw St., Baltimore).

Powers steps in for an ailing Valerie Harper who was nominated for a Tony in the role and played it in Washington a few years ago. Powers has a strong connection to the material — she was Bankhead’s co-star in “Die Die My Darling,” the film for which Bankhead is looping a scene in “Looped.” Powers said she has fond memories of Bankhead and got to know her well.

Bankhead was known for wild partying and was for unconventional liberal causes that broke away from Southern Democratic traditions. The play takes place on a sound studio in 1965.

Tickets are $43-$92. For more information, visit


Gem from another era

‘The Show-Off’
Through Feb. 2
American Century Theater
Gunston Performing Arts Center, Theatre II
2700 South Lang Street, Arlington

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From left, Joe Cronin, Jenna Berk and Lee Mikeska Gardner in ‘The Show-Off.’ (Photo by Johannes Markus; courtesy of the American Century Theater)

Everyone’s met an Aubrey Piper, the obnoxious title character in George Kelly’s 1924 comedy “The Show-Off.” Loud, boastful, desperate for attention, Aubrey is a nightmare in an obvious toupee and a liar to boot. But lucky for most of us, unlike the Fishers, the good folks featured in Kelly’s play, we don’t have an Aubrey marrying into the family.

At 90, Kelly’s play is windy but fundamentally funny precisely because it deals in familiar, time-resistant types. “The Show-off” got its start as a big Broadway hit and subsequently enjoyed revivals and was adapted to the screen more than once. Currently, it’s in production at Arlington’s American Century Theater, a company committed to promoting 20th century plays as a vital part of today’s cultural dialogue.

The show opens with Mrs. Fisher (Lee Mikeska Gardner) dishing the dirt with her sensible, well-married daughter Clara (Jenna Berk). It seems Aubrey (David Gram) has been coming to call on the Fishers’ younger daughter Amy (Erin E. McGuff) every Wednesday and Sunday evening without fail. Not content to woo his giggly girlfriend privately in the offstage parlor, Aubrey brings his corny jokes, tall tales and off key singing center stage to the living room where Amy’s parents and her inventor brother Joe (Evan Crump) are trying to pass a quiet evening at home. A solid working class family with a comfortable house in northern Philadelphia, the Fishers can’t understand what their daughter sees in the phony low paid freight clerk posing as a Pennsylvania Railroad big shot.

By act two the Fishers’ worst fears are realized: Aubrey and Amy are married. By act three, it gets even worse, and finally a little better. At the end, Clara begins to soften. Locked in a lonely marriage, she is charmed by Aubrey’s sincere love for her sister. And though he doesn’t pull a big salary, Aubrey does go to work every day. In the end, despite — or more likely because of — his borderline con artist ways, Aubrey brings a boon to the family. Will he again in the future? That’s unclear.

Set in the playwright George Kelly’s native Philadelphia, the comedy is filled with references to streets and neighborhoods including the downtown area where Clara’s detached husband Frank (Nello DeBlasio) first spotted Aubrey (he’s hard to miss with jaunty fedora, walking stick and red carnation), and the busy intersection where Aubrey runs down a cop.

George Kelly was enormously popular in the ‘20s and early ‘30s. Today, aside from being movie star Grace Kelly’s uncle, he is best known for “The Show-Off” and his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Craig’s Wife,” a morality tale about a controlling woman who values a pristine home above family and friendship. (The latter was adapted for the screen in ‘50s as “Harriett Craig,” a juicy mid-career vehicle for none other than real life clean freak Joan Crawford). Kelly was also gay, and not surprising for the time, carefully closeted. He maintained a 55-year relationship with partner William Weagley.

Uniformed in her apron and rolled down hose, Mikeska Gardner’s Mrs. Fisher is a feisty but warmhearted and uncomplicated homemaker. Sometimes she plays her a bit simple but never a fool. Similarly, Gram’s Aubrey even at his most over-the-top, third rate vaudevillian weirdness, is no fool either. It’s a good thing too. The play wouldn’t work otherwise.

Ably directed by Stephen Jarrett, the talented nine-person cast is especially cohesive. Set designer Leigh-Ann Friedel’s living room is handsome and realistic, well suited to Kelly’s durable play. (Kelly had no time for the modernism and more experimental theater forms en vogue in his heyday). Showing great attention to detail, Erin Nugent successfully clothes the cast through numerous costume changes on a presumably not huge budget.

Once again, The American Century Theater has fulfilled its mission by plucking and mounting a charming seldom-produced show from the American repertoire. See it while you can.


Powers channels Tallulah in ‘Looped’

Stefanie Powers as Tallulah Bankhead in 'Looped.' (Photo courtesy France Merrick)

Stefanie Powers as Tallulah Bankhead in ‘Looped.’ (Photo courtesy France Merrick)

The current production of gay playwright Matthew Lombardi’s “Looped,” which runs through March 17 at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, is a bittersweet affair. Although it’s a wildly entertaining show, an ailing Valerie Harper, who has acknowledged a cancer diagnosis, had to pull out shortly before it opened.

In her place and starring as Tallulah Bankhead is “Hart to Hart” actress Stefanie Powers. The sweet part is that she succeeds so triumphantly in the role — she’s equally as good as Harper, who played the part in Washington nearly four years ago, and produces an uncanny portrayal of Bankhead that’s so accomplished, after a few minutes one forgets one is watching Powers on stage. And it’s easier said than done — this is the kind of part that is easy enough to master on a drag queen or sketch comedy level, but to imbibe Bankhead with humanity, is a bit trickier. Powers succeeds in spades. Even more astounding, she learned the dialogue-heavy part in just two weeks.

It helps, perhaps, that she was Bankhead’s costar in the 1965 film “Die Die My Darling.” The setting of “Looped” is Bankhead — pretty looped herself at this point — attempting to dub a line from the film in post-production. She has trouble getting it. Hilarity and unexpected poignance ensue. Her foil is Danny, solidly played by Brian Hutchinson, and, in the sound booth, a deadpan Steve (Matthew Montelongo). Rob Ruggiero directs.

And though it would be giving too much away to divulge details, Bankhead’s notorious bisexuality isn’t the only LGBT theme in the piece.

Go here for tickets and show times.


‘Cabaret’ goes to Church

Cabaret, Keegan Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of Keegan Theatre’s ‘Cabaret,’ which opens Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Keegan Theatre)

The Keegan Theatre presents “Cabaret” at the Church Street Theater (1742 Church St., NW) opening Saturday night at 8.

This revival of the hit Broadway show takes place in the Kit Kat Klub, a place full of seedy nightlife on the eve Hitler’s rise to power. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories,” the story centers around a cabaret singer, a writer from America and the denizens of Berlin.

Tickets are $35 to $40. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Feb. 23.

For more information, visit