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‘Velocity’ of D.C. theater

Sarah Marshall, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Sarah Marshall in ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane,’ one of several crackling family dramas produced in the Washington area this year. (Photo courtesy Round House)

The year in theater has been an intriguing blend of old and new.

Many works contained gay content or were written by gay playwrights and most productions benefited from the efforts of gay actors, directors and designers.

It’s also been a good year for the stirring family drama. The crop of memorable plays exploring dysfunctional relationships between parents and adult children was bigger and better than usual.

In the spring, Arena Stage presented the area premiere of gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” a well-made play about an aging Republican power couple dealing with their liberal daughter’s soon-to-be-released tell-all autobiography. The production was compelling but uneven — the cast didn’t quite ring true as family.

Not the case with Arena’s “The Velocity of Autumn,” Eric Coble’s two-hander staged by Arena’s Molly Smith and beautifully acted by the enduringly vital Estelle Parsons as an elderly woman on the edge and Broadway vet Stephen Spinella as her estranged gay son who comes home to Brooklyn and saves the day. “Velocity” opens on Broadway in 2014 with Smith slated to direct the New York production (the local theater legend’s Broadway debut).

Round House Theatre explored family too with Bill Cain’s powerfully autobiographical “How to Write a New Book for the Bible.” In the touching drama, the playwright recounts many of the details of his 82-year-old mother’s death from liver cancer while also celebrating his life spent as the younger son in a mostly functional family. Out actor MaryBeth Wise gave a wonderfully nuanced performance as the practical and independent mother. The role called for her to age 40 years and she pulled it off brilliantly.

Round House’s family riff continued with Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” the dark tale of an isolated old Irish woman and her adult daughter who engage in an ongoing game of control with disastrous consequences. Sarah Marshall, who is gay, gave an admirably layered performance as the mostly immobile, but fiendishly domineering mother. The reliably terrific Kimberly Gilbert played the emotionally dependent daughter. The company’s most recent offering was “The Lyons,” gay playwright Nicky Silvers’ evisceration of a middle class family. Marcus Kyd played the damaged gay son.

In 2013, Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn shared his skills with the competition, directing “Torch Song Trilogy” at Studio Theatre, and “Pride in the Falls of Autry Mill” at Signature Theatre in Shirlington. Both shows are family dramedies rife with gay content. In “Torch Song,” New York-based actor Brandon Uranowitz triumphed as Arnold, the sharp-tongued, big hearted drag queen hell-bent on creating a happy family. “Pride” (penned by Paul Downs Colaizzo) featured a terrific cast including Christine Lahti as an unhappy suburban perfectionist and Anthony Bowden as her angry college-age gay son. Both shows boasted finely drawn performances.

At Signature last winter, Joe Calarco staged a production of “Shakespeare’s R&J,” an acclaimed all-male prep school-set take on “Romeo and Juliet” that he wrote and premiered in New York in the late ‘90s. Signature’s four man cast included talented out actors Alex Mills and Jefferson Farber.

In August, Slovenia’s Mladinsko Theatre performed its production of out playwright Norman Allen’s solo drama “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint. Allen’s play about the tortured ballet dancer premiered in D.C. in the late ‘90s.

And 15 years after Matthew Shepard’s death, Ford’s Theatre presented an anniversary production of gay playwright Moisés Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project,” an affecting ensemble piece that gives insight into the community’s response to the 1998 brutal murder of Shepard, a young gay man living in Laramie, Wyo. The production (directed by Matthew Gardiner, who is gay) received roundly positive notices despite being plagued with venue issues due to the government shutdown (Ford’s Theatre is operated through a public-private partnership between Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service).

Memorable 2013 musicals included a cracking national tour of gay composer Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” starring triple threat Rachel York at the Kennedy Center; “Fela,” a tour of the energized musical bio of legendary Nigerian pop star and political activist Fela Kuti staged by gay choreographer and director Bill Cunningham at Shakespeare Theatre Company; a tight reworking of “Miss Saigon” at Signature; and Studio 2nd Stage’s “The Rocky Horror Show” with Mitchell Jarvis as Dr. Frank’N’Furter. Also of note was the Broadway-bound “If/Then,” an engaging production that revitalized the National Theatre with its buzz and star power (Idina Menzel, LaChanze and Anthony Rapp).

In 2013, some openly gay actors dug deep for accents. As the aforementioned scary old woman in “Beauty Queen,” Sarah Marshall successfully tried on a very thick Irish brogue. Out actor Will Gartshore adopted a sexy French accent to play a worldly doctor unwittingly entangled in the drama of a group of romantically challenged Americans in “This” at Roundhouse. And Rick Hammerly went British with a charming performance as jovial Fezziwig in Ford’s “A Christmas Carol,” a sterling production of the Dickens’ December standard. Jeffrey Johnson reprised the tones of old school New York society for the revival of his cabaret act “Edie Beale Live at Reno Sweeney” at the intimate Café L’Enfant in Adams Morgan.

Holly Twyford kicked off the year playing the boss from hell in Studio’s superb production of Mark Bartlett’s “Contractions.” A celebrated local actor, Twyford (who is gay) finishes 2013 back at Studio directing British playwright Sam Holcroft’s “Edgar and Annabel.”  Studio describes the play as “a dark and cheeky look at what the future might hold, featuring undercover agents, surveillance algorithms and explosive karaoke.” Not a bad way to close the year.


Will has grace

Will Gartshore, gay news, Washington Blade

Will Gartshore will be at Signature next week for a new cabaret show. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) hosts “Dressed Up: A Class Conscious Cabaret” starring gay singer/actor Will Gartshore as part of its “Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret” series on Thursday at 8 p.m. and Friday (Aug. 16 )at 7 p.m.

Gartshore had a successful Broadway and off-Broadway career in New York during the ‘90s, but has also thrived in Washington after moving here in 2002. Performances in Signature Theater’s “Urinetown” (2005) and Roundhouse’s “A Year with Frog and Toad” have earned him critical acclaim and prestige in D.C.

Gartshore has since become a full-time lobbyist for the World Wildlife Fund, but still performs occasionally. “Dressed Up” will feature classic tunes by Gershwin, Sondheim and The Beatles, accompanied by pianist Christopher Wingert.

Admission is $24-31.15 for both nights. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit


Calendar through August 22

D.C. Mystics, gay news, Washington Blade

The D.C. Mystics in action. Night OUT with the team is Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Mystics)

Friday, August 16

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts Bear Happy Hour tonight from 6-11 p.m. There is no cover charge, and admission is limited to guests 21 and over. For details, visit

Cobalt (1639 R St., N.W.) hosts “Deejay Gauthreaux’s Mother F*ckin’ Birthday Bash” tonight from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. for guests 21 and over. Free rail vodka drinks will be served from 10-11. Admission is $10. For details and to purchase tickets, visit

Whitman-Walker Health provides free HIV testing at The Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8t St., S.E.) at 10 p.m. tonight. For more information, visit

Aqua Bar and Lounge (1818 New York Ave., N.E.) hosts “Club Fuego,” a Latino gay dance party, from 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m. tonight. Admission is $10 and limited to guests 21 and over. For details, visit

Will Gartshore performs “Dressed Up: A Class-Conscious Cabaret” in the “Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret Series” at Signature Theatre (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.) at 7 p.m. tonight. Gartshore will perform classic hits by Sondheim, The Beatles and Gershwin with pianist Christopher Wingert. Admission is $31.15. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Saturday, Aug. 17

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts a “We Love the ‘90s” party tonight for guests 21 and over. The evening features all ‘90s music and videos upstairs, with a ‘90s drag performance at 10:30 p.m. Doors open at 10. Cover is $8 from 10-11 and $12 after 11. For details, visit

Phase 1 of Dupont (1415 22nd St., N.W.) hosts its weekly “Booty Beach Ladies Dance Party.” The winner of the party’s bikini and board shorts contest will receive cash and prizes. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and admission is $5. Visit for more information.

The Black Lesbian Support Group meets at the University of D.C. Student Services Building (4200 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) at 3 p.m. today. For more information, visit

Matchbox (1901 14th St., N.W.) hosts a retreat for the D.C. Center’s Youth Working Group from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Visit for more information.

D.C. Eagle (639 New York Ave., N.W.) hosts a bar night for the Centaur Motorcycle Club tonight at 9 p.m. For more details, visit or

Burgundy Crescent, a gay volunteer organization, volunteers today for a lost dog and cat rescue foundation at the Falls Church PetSmart (6100 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, Va.) from 11:45 a.m.-3 p.m. Visit for more information.

Sunday, Aug. 18

K&C Productions hosts its weekly “Sizzling Hot Sundays,” an LGBT hip-hop and house music dance party, at Club Muse (717 6th St., N.W.) tonight from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. For details, visit

Perry’s (1811 Columbia Rd., N.W.) hosts its weekly Sunday Drag Brunch today from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The cost is $24.95 for an all-you-can-eat buffet. For details, visit

The Black Fox Lounge (1723) hosts “Tula’s Cabaret,” a classic lip-sync drag show, from 8-11 p.m. tonight. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Special Agent Galactica performs tonight with jazz guitarist, Peter Fields, at L’Enfant Café (2000 18th St., N.W.) at 7 p.m. The show features music from the Golden Age of Jazz, the Blues of Burlesque and some Hollywood classics. Admission is free. For details, visit

Monday, Aug. 19

The D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) hosts coffee drop-in hours this morning from 10 a.m.-noon for the senior LGBT community. Older LGBT adults can come and enjoy complimentary coffee and conversation with other community members. For more information, visit

Casa Ruby, a safe space for members of the Latino transgender community,  (2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.) provides Spanish-language career development today from 4-6 p.m. For more information, visit the or

Tuesday, Aug. 20

Whitman-Walker Health provides free HIV testing at Panam Supermarket (3552 14th St., N.W.) tonight from 7-9 p.m. For more information, visit

Green Lantern (1335 Green Ct., N.W.) hosts its weekly FUK!T Packing Party tonight from 7-9 p.m. For more details, visit or

Team D.C. presents “Night OUT at the Mystics vs. the Chicago Sky” tonight at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center (601 F St., N.W.). Tickets range from $17-300. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Pat Benatar, who has maintained an LGBT following with her ‘80s smash hits and involvement in gay Pride parades, performs tonight with Neil Giraldo of Cheap Trick at Wolf Trap (1551 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va.). Admission is $25-42. For details and to purchase tickets, visit

Wednesday, Aug. 21

Whitman-Walker Health provides free HIV testing at Congresswoman Eleanor Norton’s annual job fair today from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center (801 Mt. Vernon Pl., N.W.). For more information, visit

Us Helping Us (3636 Georgia Ave., N.W.) hosts a support group for black gay men living with HIV tonight from 7-9 p.m. For more details, visit

Midtown (1219 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) hosts “Mix It Up 2.0,” an LGBT dance party, tonight from 8:30-midnight. All groups of six entering together get a free bottle of champagne. For details, visit

“WAIFs,” an all female stand-up and sketch comedy group, perform tonight at Black Fox Lounge (1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $5 and limited to guests 21 and over. For more information, visit

The Dupont Drawing Group meets tonight at 7 p.m. at The Church of the Pilgrims (2201 P St., N.W.) to draw from the live model. The session is self-directed with no formal instruction, and no materials are provided. Drawing spots and easels are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, so guests should arrive anytime after 6:45. No reservations are required but a modest fee to pay the model will be collected. For more information, visit

Thursday, Aug. 22

Rude Boi Entertainment hosts “Tempted 2 Touch,” a ladies dance party, today at the Fab Lounge (2022 Florida Ave., N.W.). Doors open at 5 p.m. for happy hour until 9, and the club closes at 1 a.m. Admission is $5 all night and limited to guests 21 and over. For details, visit

Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) meet tonight from 7-8:30 p.m. at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.). The organization works to reduce violence toward LGBT people through community outreach, education and monitoring legal cases to ensure the dignity of LGBT victims. For more details, visit

D.C. Eagle (639 New York Ave., N.W.) hosts a “Beltway Bears Bar Night” this evening at 9 p.m. For details, visit or


‘This’ time

This, Lise Bruneau, Jane, Felicia Curry, Marrell, Will Gartshore, Jean-Pierre, Michael Glenn, Alan, Round House Theatre, Melissa James Gibson

From left, Lise Bruneau as Jane, Felicia Curry as Marrell, Will Gartshore as Jean-Pierre and Michael Glenn as Alan in Round House Theatre’s ‘This.’ (Photo by Danisha Crosby; courtesy Round House)

Through Nov. 3
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway

With “This,” playwright Melissa James Gibson briefly tracks the not altogether graceful slide into middle age of a small group of longtime friends. And while the issues confronting them — mortality, family and the seven year itch — are heavily tread topics, the author’s word play, obsessive parsing and quirky point of view make these subjects feel altogether fresh. Her characters can be ultra-glib, sometimes annoyingly so, but they’re also layered and relatable.

The Obie Award-winning dramedy is currently playing at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre in a terrifically acted production deftly staged by the company’s producing artistic director Ryan Rilette.

It begins in the New York apartment of unhappily married Tom (Todd Scofield) and Marrell (Felicia Curry). Their newborn doesn’t sleep much and their nerves are jangly. On hand for a small gathering are Marrell’s close college friends Jane (Lisa Bruneau), a poet whose husband died exactly a year ago, and Alan (Michael Glenn), a self-deprecating gay mnemonicist (remembers every conversation he’s ever heard verbatim) who’s rarely without a drink or comment. And joining the foursome for the first time is Frenchman Jean-Pierre (out actor Will Gartshore), a handsome physician with Doctors Without Borders. He’s there as a possible love match for Jane, but it’s Marrell who seems to be falling for his Gallic charms.

The hosts bicker about baby, words and the Brita water filter, but they’re hell bent on having a good time, especially Marrell. Determined to pull Jane out of mourning, she forces her reluctant pal to play a party game. It falls flat. The evening is a dud.

Soon after, Marrell’s woodworker husband Tom pays a visit to Jane. He has feelings. Things happen that really shouldn’t, and most of the remainder of the play is about Jane resolving her guilt. The rather vague demonstrative pronoun title refers to both Jane and Tom’s regrettable deed and other more existential and typically unmentioned problems.

James Kronzer’s ingenious revolving set is a dizzying puzzle of gray blocks that moves to create living rooms, a TV studio (where Tom broadcasts his memory trick to the masses), and a nightclub. As jazz singer/songwriter Marrell, Curry gets to show off a gorgeous, sultry voice with two torchy songs composed by Peter Eldridge.

The cast is top notch. Bruneau’s Jane is a wonderfully multifaceted portrayal of a real woman who’s been dealt a relatively rough hand. Held up as the sainted widow by her friends, she proves her humanness at every turn — both unintentionally and on purpose. And Gartshore is a delight as the worldly Frenchman who serves as a voice of reason among the comparably self-involved Americans. Jean-Pierre’s good looks and selfless vocation are an inspiration, prompting Alan to rethink his life — maybe he should aspire to do more than regurgitate chitchat?

And fortunately for the production, Glenn is playing Alan the familiarly drawn gay boozy sidekick whose cutting rejoinders couldn’t be more predictable. Glenn brings funny to a lot of spots where there isn’t much.

At about 90 minutes without intermission, “This” moves at a quick pace. The end is touching though unexpected. Speaking with heartfelt sincerity to her young unseen daughter, Jane emerges as a protagonist in what has seemed more an ensemble work. It leaves you wondering what happened to the other folks. But perhaps that’s best. Like life, Gibson’s play leaves room for some more of this and a lot more of that.


Year in review: Gems from the stage

From left are Chris Stezin, Liz Mamana, Kimberly Gilbert and Will Gartshore in ‘The Religion Thing.’ (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy Theater J)

From left are Chris Stezin, Liz Mamana, Kimberly Gilbert and Will Gartshore in ‘The Religion Thing.’ (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy Theater J)

Like so many past years, 2012 also saw an energetic pool of LGBT theater professionals contributing to the vitality and success of the ever-expanding local theater scene. The following gives you an idea.

Undoubtedly, one of the area’s hardest working theater folks throughout this year has been Signature Theatre’s gay associate director Matthew Gardiner. He’s also one of its most talented.

Gardiner staged four excellent and very different Signature productions beginning with “Really Really,” a comic tragedy about today’s mind numbingly self-absorbed youth. Next up, he directed and choreographed a well-executed production of the ‘70s campfest musical, “Xanadu.” In the fall, he helmed gay playwright Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” an intimate drama about life and death in the shadow of the Iraq War with strapping actor Thomas Keegan playing both the butch army officer and his more effusive gay identical twin. Gardiner finished the year directing and choreographing a first rate production of “Dreamgirls.” And if all that weren’t enough, sometime in early fall he made time to choreograph MetroStage’s notable production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

Last spring’s “Twist Festival D.C.” gave local audiences were given an opportunity to experience the magic of gay puppeteer extraordinaire Basil Twist. The mini-fest kicked off at the Shakespeare Theatre Company with “Petrushka,” Twist’s trippy take on the classic Russian ballet about a love triangle involving three puppets: the eponymous clown, a ballerina and a Moor. Originally commissioned for New York’s Lincoln Center in 2000, the charming show featured pirouetting puppets and floating objects accompanied by real life Russian identical twins playing a reduction of Igor Stravinsky’s score on identical pianos.

Other festival productions included “Arias with a Twist” (Twist’s campy collaboration with legendary downtown New York drag performer Joey Arias); and “Dogugaeshi,” a Japanese-inspired journey of images accompanied by original Japanese lute compositions (at Woolly Mammoth and Studio Theatre respectively).

Over the year, art imitated life with gay actors giving memorable performances as gay characters including Tom Story and Chris Dinolfo as a mismatched but devoted couple in Roundhouse Theatre’s “Next Fall.” Rep Stage’s production of gay playwright Jon Marans’ “The Temperamentals” featured Rick Hammerly as Bob Hull, a founding member of the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Society (the first gay rights organization in the United States). And at Theater J, MaryBeth Wise played one half of a same-sex couple in Annie Baker’s comic drama “Body Awareness.”

Also at Theater J, Will Gartshore played an allegedly “ex-gay” Christian in “The Religion Thing” (penned by local playwright Renee Calarco and staged by her gay brother, director Joe Calarco). Gartshore’s layered performance gave dimension to a character that might otherwise have been perceived simply as a creepy stereotype.

Impressively, Gartshore performed three different one-man cabarets in just two weeks this summer: A mix of well-known and obscure tunes titled “Underappreciated & Overexposed” at Signature Theatre, “Dressed Up” the next weekend, then companion piece “Stripped Down” at Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring space. With his gorgeous tenor, talent for intimate storytelling and ability to put across both a painful breakup song and cheekily spun version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” with equal ease, Gartshore took his audiences on a gratifying and fun musical journey. D.C. is lucky to have him.

Local out actor Bobby Smith showed off his skill set in 2012. In the fall, Smith wowed audiences playing the title character in MetroStage’s topnotch production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue celebrating the work of the late singer/songwriter known as the voice of postwar Paris. Smith was terrific as the world weary, cynical yet sentimental Brel.

Following “Jacques Brel,” Smith staged a charming take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical “Cinderella” at the Olney Theatre Center (runs through Dec. 30).

In 2012, some openly gay actors played it straight. The versatile and nimble Alex Mills starred as the upstanding scientist and his terrifying alter ego in Synetic Theatre’s “Jeckyll and Hyde.” Broadway actor Nicholas Rodriquez returned to Arena Stage to play love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the Edwardian dandy who falls in love with Eliza in “My Fair Lady” (through Jan. 6). And Holly Twyford and Matthew Montelongo fought and fornicated in Studio Theatre’s world premiere of “Dirt,” Bryony Lavery’s play about morality and decay.

A highlight from this year was Arena Stage’s production of Larry Kramer’s stunning drama “The Normal Heart.” Considered a rant when it premiered in New York in 1985, Kramer’s autobiographical AIDS play has aged beautifully — still full of fury but also empathetic, loving and sad. This production was skillfully staged by gay director George C. Wolfe and featured a fabulous cast including Patrick Breen as Ned, the Kramer character, and handsome Luke MacFarlane as his lover who has been diagnosed with the virus.

For Shakespeare Theatre Company’s gay artistic director Michael Kahn, 2012 was a spectacular year. Not only did his company celebrating its 25th anniversary season, it was also honored with the prestigious Regional Theatre Tony Award. Not too shabby.