Based off of Roald Dahl’s classic book, Matilda Wormwood is child genius trapped in a family that cares more about the television than her. While she dreams up wondrous tales and reads more book than anyone else, she finds herself at odds with the adults in her life – her foolish parents and brutal headmistress. However, her teacher Miss Honey, shows her not all adults are cruel or selfish and a sudden discovery of magical powers give Matilda hope to fuel her stories and to revolt back against her oppressors.
Why I Chose to See It
Matilda was one of my favorite books as a child (ever the bookworm, I related to her greatly and spent hours bored in my classes trying to move objects with my eyes). I was also excited about the casting – I’m a fan of China Brickey (who plays Miss Honey) and I was delighted to see the role of Miss Trunchbull (the cruel headmistress) actually cast to a woman (on Broadway it has been staged with a man in drag). I’m also a fan of Emily Gunyou Halaas so the chance to see her play the wicked Trunchbull wasn’t something I could pass down.
I think I have a new favorite musical. This show expertly combines the whimsy and darkness of Dahl’s writing along with the poignant and humorous nature of British artist Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics. Celebrating the intelligence and power of children, this musical is a delight from start to finish. Often with new musicals, I worry about the plot being diluted by large musical numbers or simplistic songs that do little to advance the piece. This musical is not like that at all – the full story is there in all its twists and turns and samplings of childhood antics. And the music is glorious – from humorous romps (starring the wonderful Dean Holt and Autumn Ness as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood) – to nostalgic pieces like “When I Grow Up” that make me miss the simplicity of being a kid, to Miss Trunchbull’s frightening solos that feel somehow like a soliloquy by Iago or Richard the III. Perhaps most striking of all are what I consider the three female leads – Matilda, Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull. It’s wonderful to see such diverse examples of women portrayed on stage, from sweet and conscience (Miss Honey) to clever and bold (Matilda) to wicked and brutal (Miss Trunchbull) and so much more in between for all three. Seeing Emily Gunyou-Halaas play Trunchbull alone makes the entire show – I can’t recall seeing a performance that made me so afraid and yet also gleeful as someone who loves seeing more diverse rolls for women onstage.
Go see this show. It’s beautiful and wonderful and a giant fist pump for bibliophiles. It will make you appreciate what it takes to be a growing child (and adult) in this world. And it’s a whole lot of fun to boot.
Matilda the Musical runs through June 23. The book is by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and direction by Peter C. Brosius. For show and ticket information, please visit Children Theatre’s website.
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale The Hobbit, this play focuses on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a peaceful food-loving hobbit turned reluctant burglar to aid a troupe of dwarfs in regaining their mountain overtaken by the terrifying dragon Smaug.
Why I Chose to See It
I am a Lord of the Rings fanatic and actually a hobbit (second breakfast, anyone?). I hadn’t yet seen a show at Children’s Theatre Company (I know, how is that possible?) and, as this was one of my favorite books as a kid, I deeply wanted to see how a children’s theater adapted it. Also the casting was phenomenal and there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this ensemble perform.
This is a fantastic and faithful adaption down to Bilbo’s dress and spiffy feet – yes, while there’s no hairy feet onstage (likely due safety and the price/ quick wear and tear of prosthetics) but the brown dress shoes still get to the heart of a hobbit’s character and physicality. I expected the adaption to trim away unnecessary bits and skirt away from the grim end, none of which it did. It certainly trims the book down but doesn’t leave anything out, merely represents it more leanly, also making it easier for its younger audience members to understand (and likewise shows how foolish it was for the film to stretch the story out into three films). It also doesn’t change the end at all – in fact, the show deals with hardship grief in a really lovely and sensitive way. The costumes are fantastic, creating whole new characters out of a certain core piece (goggles, helmet, headband, etc) and blending a feel of found items with a highly designed set. The cast is especially delightful and powerful. I don’t want to pick a favorite in this ensemble because they’re all so good – Joy Dolo’s Lady Gandalf and skin-crawling Gollum, H. Adam Harris’s cheerful Kili and menacing Smaug, Becca Hart’s endearing Balin and courageous Bard (I always thought Bard ought to be a woman so I’m happy to see this come true in this production), Reed Sigmund’s brave, powerful, and greedy Thorin, and Dean Holt’s picture perfect Bilbo. I couldn’t believe that an ensemble of only five members could portray all the characters in this book (especially as there’s thirteen dwarfs!) but they do it without making it feel barebones. It’s simple but as lush, robust, and alive as any large-casted show. The music is especially fun with a score throughout and a several key songs.
I’m sad I waited to so long to see a show at CTC but I’m also overwhelmingly happy this is my first. I don’t often find myself in rooms filled with children and I absolutely loved experiencing this show with young, creative minds willing to go along with whatever was thrown their way and use their imaginations to fill in the blanks with costumes and sets. I also enjoyed their unrestrained reactions and I jumped right along with them in some of the scary parts. I highly recommend this show equally to children and adults. I found myself hoping that this show returns one day so I can bring my friend’s child to this and experience introducing a new generation into one my favorite books.
The Hobbit adapted and directed by Greg Banks. It is playing now through April 14th at Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis. For show and ticket information, please visit Children’s Theatre Company’s site.
This play follows a girls’ indoor team of high school soccer players as they navigate relationships, friendships, and trying to make it to nationals. #46 is new to the team (the rest of the group having played together since they were kids) and is learning their inside jokes, their habits, and what it mean to be part of the Wolves.
Why I Chose to See It
I saw this play last spring when it was first performed at the Jungle. At the time, the play was part of my graduate work at Augsburg and I was excited to see it staged. I adored the production and, when I heard about the remount, I knew I had to see it again.
If I liked this play the first time, I am absolutely infatuated with it this time around. The nuances between the players, the overlapping conversation, and the emotional trials of being a teenage girl are powerful and even more finessed and clarified. It helps that this same group of actors performed it less than a year ago and (from what I gather from Instagram) adore this play. Creating theater is teamwork so it’s no surprise that a show that mixes soccer and acting together works so well. The physicality is mesmerizing and, with the location of the Souther, it truly feels like you’re in the bleachers watching a game (the stage is on ground level – it is not raised about the seats – which is a huge advantage in this show). I don’t want to give away too much about this show, but it really hits personal notes for me due to my experiences in high school and I have heard other women have the same reactions. Even if you do not identify as a woman, the characters and the stories will feel familiar and tell a very moving story about growing up in the Midwest.
Just go see this show. Bring your friends, bring your enemies, bring everyone. This is modern theater at its best.
The Wolves is written by Sarah DeLappe and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through February 17th at the Souther Theatre. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
The Children takes place along the coast in England after a terrible natural disaster has led to nuclear issue. Hazel and Robin have moved to a new house after theirs was damaged and Rose, Robin’s one-time lover, has shown up unexpectedly. The three navigate their complex relationships and the decimated world around them, ultimately having to make difficult decisions about life, sacrifice, and morality.
Why I Chose to See It
Each production I see at the Jungle makes me love the new artistic leadership more and more. This is a regional premiere of a play that was just on Broadway in 2017 and I was intrigued by the promotions for this show which left a lot of what could happen in the play ambiguous. And I will pretty much see Stephen Yoakam in anything,
This play starts slow then pummels you through an emotional roller coaster. I went into this show knowing next to nothing about it (other than I kept seeing gas masks show up in promotions for it at other theaters). I feel inclined not to give away too much about this show as there’s something particularly poignant with this piece going in not knowing what’s going to happen and if you can entirely believe what you see. The show is title after unseen figures in the play – the children of Robin and Hazel, and other children in the world, who are being affected and having their lives shortened by something that was beyond their control, but in some ways could have its damage reduced by their parents. Generational and economic struggles are gestured to without soapboxing or allowing for easy answers. Another theme is living with less, something that Robin and Hazel especially struggle with. As I’m in the midst of vegan January (something I chose to do for animal and environmental welfare reasons), this particularly struck me. On top of the unexpected outrage toward Marie Kondo, this echoed the outrage that comes with a certain level of privilege when people are asked to reduce. There’s also a certain striking juxtaposition here of great terrible danger outside and general peace that’s found in the cottage by the sea where Robin and Hazel live that eases the audience into thinking that things are alright because they are for this couple – when the rest of the world is greatly suffering. Hazel is disinclined towards risks, wants to lengthen her life as long as possible, and in some ways refuses to accept that death is inevitable, something I think wonderfully articulates the resistance and refusal I see again and again of those who are afraid to actually to work towards change lest they lose something due to it. For Hazel, it’s better to stay where they are and muddle through, hoping things will get better, rather than making the sacrifices that will actually change things – or so we hope.
This play is powerful, thought-provoking, incredibly timely (what with the government shutdown, repeated reports about the effects of global warming and changing temperatures here in Minnesota, and general continual fear/dread that seems to have become normalized in society), and one that deserves lots of discussion and pondering over afterwards. It’s an uneasy, ponderous play but it’s one that certainly deserves attention and I hope will spark conversation.
The Children is written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Casey Stangl. It is playing now through February 10th at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
Elisabet, self-help guru and Instagram celebrity, suffers a sort of break-down in the middle of one of her public speaking engagements. Alma, a nurse, is charged with looking after Elisabet on a seaside retreat. A bit starstruck and struggling with authenticity herself, Alma works to help Elisabet find herself again, but things take a dark turn when the two women discover how similar and yet how different they are. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, this show is part of the Bergman Jubilee in 2018 (a celebration around the world the centennial of the celebrated filmmaker’s birth).
Why I Chose to See It
I love seeing new work, especially work that is multi-media and advertised as something “like you’ve never seen before.” I admire the work of Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger (who both appear in the show) and I’m excited about their company E/D generating new work about women for everyone.
This absolutely is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s gorgeously staged and challenging (both to watch and understand) which is very much welcomed on my end – I love a good puzzling story as well as a production that feels uncomfortable and suspenseful throughout, which this play delivers wonderfully. Much of the suspense is created through the ever present camera operator – Amber Johnson of Dangervision Productions – who captures close-up details that otherwise might be as noticeable to the audience’s eye in theater while also emphasizing the influence of social media and the focus on physical appearance. Johnson is onstage almost the entire show, following both King and Berger’s characters, often using camera angles to reveal something about the two or giving the perspective that they are standing side by side when the in actuality might be a whole stage apart. The show also uses prerecorded footage to add to the sense of unease.
There’s a lot to unpack in this performance and I’m certain that anyone who sees it will walk away with a slightly different idea of what it’s about, reflections that all overlap on the same foundation. The production shows the complexity of people – especially women, the ways in which the self-help industry can profit off of people and use them rather than help them, how authenticity is a nebulous topic – How can we be real in a world that at times feels both too real and utterly unreal? How can be be real people when our social media presence causes us to act and entertain in certain ways? How can women really know who they are when they are constantly barraged with ideas and perspectives of who they’re supposed to be? I’ve spent some time in my personal life struggling through feeling authentic and who I think I am (including conversations with my therapist about it) and much of the show hit me very personally for this reason.
By the end of the piece, the audience is left with a great deal of questions. I don’t want to give away the story but I can’t help but note and appreciate the yin and yang symbolism that is used throughout the show (from costuming, to movement, to the cover of a book in one scene). As Elisabeth and Alma travel over the course of the show, I’m never quite certain if they’re different people, the same person, people existing only in the mind of the camera operator. Perhaps we all get to decide at the end, just as we all must decide how we be authentic in this world and how live and find balance ourselves – as it’s nothing that a self-help expert can fix for us, no matter how good they are.
This was the perfect show for me to see in my present moment (where I’m navigating belief changes, new health practices, and new ways of defining myself) and I can’t recommend it enough. Whether you’re a film fan – especially of Bergman, but also of filmmakers such as Lars von Trier or David Lynch – or looking for theater that pushes the boundaries of what we think it can do, or just looking to see some great new work – specifically work by women artists – I think you should see this.
Animus is created by and features Emily Michaels King, Debra Berger, and Amber Johnson. It runs now through December 22nd at the Southern Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit E/D’s website or the Southern’s.
This play, based off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is a sequel of sorts to Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (which the Jungle performed last Christmas and I missed it and I shall never forgive myself). This new play – written by the same playwrights of Miss Bennet, Lauren Gunderson and Margo Melcon – shows us another Pemberley Christmas, one where Lydia, Lizzie’s dream-struck sister, is separated from her husband, George Wickham (who’s bad reputation follows him wherever his very name appears) and she yearns to see him over the holidays. Meanwhile, new maid Cassie is learning the ropes from housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds while navigating a changed relationship with childhood friend Brian (who now works at Pemberley as well).
Why I Chose to See It:
This play is a world premier and I adore the script of Miss Bennet (and heard nothing but good things about the 2017 Jungle production). Lauren Gunderson is the most produced living playwright in America and one of the best female playwrights writing today. I am a huge fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and, honestly, I will see Sun Mee Chomet (who plays Lizzie in this show) in anything and everything. Also Christina Baldwin is rapidly becoming my favorite director in the Twin Cities.
This play is everything I wanted and more. It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s clever and proud and brave. It gives Lydia the depth and heart I always wanted her to have, it creates a new character – Cassie – who fits seamlessly into the Austen world while also having a fresh, modern perspective. Cassie is not afraid to speak her mind and she loves what she does – she feels free by being able to help run a household and take care of herself. Brian is also a wonderful sort of character – a sweet, gentle man who still makes mistakes – and learns from them. Particular moments of this show especially pack a wallop, given my personal mindset and the current events of the world around us. There’s a misunderstanding between Brian and Cassie (that I won’t delve into too much, in order to save spoilers) that Cassie calls him out on assumptions made about her rather than asking her and listening to her story. The demand that we listen to women has never felt more perfect for a story and more necessary. Lydia’s own story – with its eerie references to an abusive situation (Wickham convincing her it’s them against the world, gaslighting her and manipulating her emotions, as well as lying to her and refusing to tell the truth) – gains a darkness but also a strength as it focuses on how a romantic woman tries to navigate those who would take advantage of her and try to mold her life into what they think it should be. Ultimately it is up to Lydia to change her own life – which see eagerly accepts and shows she can thrive at. This play is especially poignant and beautiful for all the different kinds of women it portrays and the artful way it weaves their stories together.
Go see this show – it’s instantly become one of my favorite that I’ve seen in the last year and favorite in general. It’s got the perfect balance of holiday cheer while also feeding into the need that I acutely feel of not being able to completely remove myself from the world around me and creating a story that reflects both on the past and the current world. If you loved Miss Bennet, I’m assured that you will love this as well. And even if you aren’t an Austen fan, this powerful story of women seeking freedom, falling in love, and eating a whole lot of delicious biscuits might just win you over.
The Wickhams is written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon and directed by Christina Baldwin. It is playing now through December 30th at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
Based on the much loved novel by Louisa May Alcott, this play follows the story of Jo, a young woman growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War, and her three sisters Meg, Beth, and Amy. The three struggle through the hardships of war and the difficulties of being a young woman in a society that has certain expectations for them while their neighbor, Laurie, has similar struggles as a young man. As the five come of age, the world around them changes and their relationship and connections to one another change as well.
Why I Chose to See It:
This play was commissioned by the Jungle to playwright Kate Hamill (whose adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was performed in the Guthrie’s 2016-2017 season). Hamill is a wonderful adaptor and she’s a female playwright who’s work I eagerly follow. This play is a world premiere and I would see anything Sarah Rasmussen directs. I grew up around the story of Little Women and, though the ending troubles me, it feels like a strong part of my childhood (though I only read the full novel for the first time in the week preceding the show).
This play is beautiful. It has all the charm and elegance of the original story (and all the same plot points and character quirks) with a distinctly modern edge. The language feels contemporary without being utterly 21st century and the conversations are loosened from the 19th century novelistic style to a more conversational stage-friendly tone. The events in the play – especially Jo and Laurie’s conflict with their gender identity and expectations, Aunt March’s bigotry and classism, and Meg’s frustration with being an overwhelmed mother with an unhelpful husband are all seen through a lens of where we currently sit in the present day and the show gains a fresh, powerful flavor from this stance. What makes this story so compelling is the words it gives to the struggle around women in America, especially women from everyday lives who may not have great adventures and epic stories. These women still have stories that deserve to be heard and, in this heartwarming and heartbreaking play, Alcott and Hamill work beautifully together to let these stories be heard. And at the end of the story, when things feel they end not as we would like, Hamill uses her power as a playwright and Jo’s own character to reflect on this tension and give us some satisfaction even as we cry through the curtain call.
Also, the cast for this show is absolutely marvelous. Every single actor on stage nails the characters they embody. The March sisters themselves work as a fine-tuned quartet and each of their emotional extremes and personalities work in harmony with one another (even when that harmony involves personal discord between the characters). Also, if you’re a fan of Michael Hanna, he leaps out of a trunk. You’re welcome.
Go see this show. I continually feel tension with the idea of “classics” in American literature and the assumption that there are stories that everyone knows. However, this is one American story that is worth telling – and this adaptation clearly shows why. You do not have to be familiar with the original book to enjoy this play and you certainly don’t need to be a fan of the classics to attend this show. Better yet if you aren’t. This story is for the person who wonders if their story is worth telling and what to make of a world where they feel they don’t fit in.
Little Women is written by Kate Hamill and directed by Sarah Rasmussen. It is playing now through October 21st at the Jungle Theater. Ticket and show information can be found on the Jungle’s website.
Note: I’m trying a new reviewing format. Like it, love it, dislike it – let me know!
About the Show: This title really says it all. Gao Hlee is a personality coach working with CEO mogul Benedict to improve his personality. Gao Hlee is infatuated with Korean dramas and uses them to express her desire to loose her virginity before she turns 30. As she and Benedict work around cultural barriers and cultural etiquette obstacles, fate fortune, and fantasy clash against what both of them desire.
Why I Chose to See It: I love Mu Performing Art’s work. The title alone intrigued me and how often can I say I’ve seen a world premiere play written by a Hmong woman playwright? Basically never. As a playwright myself, I love seeing new work, especially by women and people of color.
My Response: I absolutely loved this show. There were moments where I had no idea where things were going and was always surprised and delighted by the twists and turns in the story. There’s a certain kind of quality to it – I don’t want to call it melodrama, but it’s akin to that, mimicking the emotional quality of the Korean soap operas it channels from – that’s really delightful (though at first might feel like overacting to an audience). The piece is incredibly well-acted by the whole ensemble, though Katie Bradley steals the show. Dexieng Yang is also wonderful (and I’m excited to see what she does at Augsburg in their theater program as a recent Augsburg MFA grad myself). This piece is incredibly funny, there’s ghosts and shamans and karaoke (shout out to Brian Kim as Benedict for nailing my dream karaoke scene of someone singing Journey’s “Faithfully” to me), and as someone who didn’t start dating until my mid-twenties, I deeply related to Gao Hlee’s struggles (though my form of escape was Jane Eyre, not Korean soap operas. I regret this choice – Korean dramas seem way more fun).
Overall: Go see this show. You’ll laugh. You’ll sigh. You’ll never think about ramen the same way again. Best of all you’ll enjoy celebrating how relationships grow, change, and work to overcome obstacles. And you also might want to take up the habit of watching Korean dramas, which I’m doing ASAP.
General Information: The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity is written by May Lee-Yang and directed by Randy Reyes. It is running now through August 19th at Park Square Theatre. Tickets are available on Mu Performing Art’s website.
I’m baaaaack! Hello, theater blogging world. After a much needed rest, I am back in the new year to continue sharing my thoughts on theater. I took some time to focus on mental health and my own writing. I took a trip to Louisville to get to better know Actors’ Theatre and to see a couple of shows there. I enjoyed the holidays and ate too many cookies. But now, I’m faced with a whole new year of theater and a new perspective on what I want to focus on. More about that to follow. But first – the Playwrights’ Center.
In case you don’t know, the Playwrights’ Center (or PWC) is one of the greatest centers for new work in the Twin Cities (and the US) and a huge, much-loved resource for playwrights. Also, all of their public readings are free and always wonderful. Monday night presented the opportunity for me to hear a piece by PWC founder John Olive. Olive has been writing for many years and, while artistic director Jeremy Cohen mentioned that right now much of the theater world’s focus might be on the next young and up and coming playwrights, it’s our core continuing playwrights, who are in the middle of latter part of their careers we also need to keep supporting.
This reading of How the Ghost of You Clings: The Anna May Wong Story included Sun Mee Chomet, playing Anna May Wong, Katie Bradley, Stephanie Bertumen, Daniel Coleman, Sherwin Resurreccion, and Daniel Sakamoto-Wengel, with Rick Shiomi directing. I’m sad to admit that I had never heard of Anna May Wong before this reading. She’s an Asian-American actress who made films in Hollywood, from silent films to talkies. She often was typecast, working in films with strong stereotypes and even yellow face. After seeing this reading, I want to learn everything I can about her.
If you’re unfamiliar with staged readings, this is how they work – actors read the lines and perform them with music stands holding the scripts in front of them. Another actor reads stage directions and, at PWC, the playwright chooses one aspect of design to focus on. For this reading, John Olive chose to have dramaturg Christina Ham work with him.
I absolutely loved this reading – it deals with a lot of deep, nuanced issues including casting and racism in Hollywood, race and gender, and the fact that not a great deal has changed since mid 1900s.
Part of this really hit home for me. Anna talks about being one person, that can’t be everything for everyone, or the solution we’re looking for to racism in Hollywood. It’s so easy to point fingers and see someone as misrepresenting their group and see their flaws as we look back on the past. We can blame Anna for taking these roles, but it’s much harder when you are the person trying to make a career.
Though I’m not a person of color, I aspects of this as a young queer playwright. I feel like there’s so much I’m expected to uphold. But I’m only one person. I can’t do everything. I feel exactly the same as a reviewer/blogger. I can’t see all the shows. I can’t go to all of the theaters. It’s unrealistic to expect me to be able to do that and it’s wrong to assume that I have to say it all or that I even should say it all. This is something I’m being more vocal about going forward as it’s a large part of why I stepped away from blogging. In regards to this, I’ve decided to stop writing my blog the way I think I have to or am supposed to or what people expect. I share this writing with others and to support the theater community, but most of all I do this for myself. I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to review certain shows or write certain things. I want to do this because I want to do this. And I really want to write about this show. So I’m glad to be jumping back into this with How the Ghost of You Clings and PWC. It feels good to be back, like I’m coming home. I can’t wait to see what else this year brings.
I deeply regret not being able to get this post up right after I saw this show (I’ve been delayed by mental health, work, and now the worst cold ever) but now I’m living in a very different mindset than I was just a few weeks ago. Of course, when I saw All the Way, I was in the middle of a panic episode that had lasted several days and influenced how I perceived the show (more about that in a sec) so maybe it’s not all that different. Because now I’m panicked about how we as a theater community operate when allegations of assault arise on social media (I have so much to say about this. There will be a post. Hopefully). And that’s where my head is at right now. But I sat down to write this review because I need to get it written. Because wow.
This show is a doozy. I don’t know what I expected when I walked into the History Theatre, but it was not three hours of fear that history – that I know happened – would not actually happen. How you can make a play about a known legislative act – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – in such an intense way that keep you on the edge of your seat as to whether it’s actually going to get passed is some pretty powerful stuff. Of course, this all carried the added weight that there’s plenty in the world to point out that this legislation wasn’t enough and plenty of people are still pushing for action that would hurt civil rights. The timeliness of this play is certainly noted, especially in the program where artistic director Ron Peluso sees the opportunity to mention Charlottesville and does it. It’s a simple thing but something I’m proud to see – it’s easy to step aside from current events instead of embracing how they affect the play you’re doing. So recognizing that is an important marker – for a theater and for its audience.
This huge, incredible cast does a great job, especially as many remain on stage for large parts of the performance. Pearce Bunting is absolutely incredible as Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Erskine Wheeler is a wonderful Hubert Humphrey (though Humphrey fans might balk at the way the playwright has chosen to portray him), Shawn Hamilton is powerful as Martin Luther King Jr, and J.C. Cutler is a marvelous aggressively antagonizing J. Edgar Hoover. Other highlights include Peter Middlecamp as Walter Jenkins, Darrick Mosley as Stokely Carmichael, Jamila Anderson as Coretta Scott King, and Josh Carson as George Wallace. This whole cast (which due to its size I’m unable to list here) deserves a lot of love and appreciation because there’s so many moving parts in this play – it’s a bulky story with a lot of history but flows easily and smoothly (even though the story it’s telling is anything but smooth).
There is one thing that bothered me though, which has gotten under my skin long after I saw the show. It doesn’t deal with the production, per say, but audience reaction that troubled me. Here there be spoilers, so if you don’t want a twist in the piece revealed to you, you might want skip this until you see it. In the second act, Walter (played by Peter Middlecamp) is arrested for homosexual activity. We watching him uncomfortably undress into hospital garments as we learn his has been sent to a mental institution. Lyndon Johnson asks Hoover, who has revealed this information to him, “How do you know if someone is… that way?” It eventually becomes a way for Johnson to prod Hoover for his behavior and pointing out allegations at Hoover’s own sexual behavior. But it uncomfortably got a lot of audience laughter through this exchange. While Walter is being taken away to whatever hell awaited a gay man hospitalized in the 1960s, audience members are laughing (maybe because Johnson is kind of goofy and that’s just how he is? But not like funny goofy just… he’s that “Southern good ole boy” type that people like to throw around). I know this was the 60s and people had utterly different views on sexuality than they do now, but I can’t help but wonder if the statement of “that way” is setting up for a punchline for a joke. Is it the way it’s written or is it an audience issue? Do they (the audience) think there’s something funny about being “that way”? Even though we’re clearly seeing the repercussions and discrimination towards LGBTQ people on stage (which is such a wonderful nod to how far civil rights really extends, even if it didn’t at the time).
It does worry me that there’s a deeper issue at play. The US recently voted against the UN’s move to ban the death for same-sex acts. (The ban passed nonetheless and since then the US has tried to clarify that they were concerned with “broader concerns” of how the resolution approached condemning the death penalty in all circumstances [source]. Yeah, I’m not happy with that answer either.) Listening to various podcasts has made me realize how far we have to go to accepting LGBTQ+ people in our country and, given the cultural moment, I’m nervous. While my general anxiety upon entering this performance didn’t help, I think it’s important to note this audience reaction, either to inform the theater so that they can better prepare their audiences or… I don’t know. Make us more aware of the little abrasions people in minority groups face during a show? I wanted to walk out at that moment, simply because of the audience, even though I was deeply invested in the show. This play brings up a serious issue of how the FBI punished and hospitalized homosexual people and the audience response deeply concerns me. Since we need to speak up now about issues in our community (as noted in my intro) I feel it’s my job to talk about these issues, no matter how nitpicky or oversensitive it might seem. Because it’s not either of those things. I noticed it and I can’t be alone.
I encourage you to go see this show. No matter how the audience responds around you, it’s a powerful piece and one that shows the complicated maneuvering, the deal making, and the power struggles of DC – and reminds us of how much work we still have to do.
All the Way is written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Ron Peluso. It is playing now through October 29th. Ticket and show information can be found on the History Theatre’s website.