Archive | Magic Time!

This column is named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it John Stoltenberg explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees.

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Review #1:’Copenhagen’ at Perisphere Theater

The storytelling in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen—which won the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play—is ingeniously done. The play’s three characters are deceased. They are actual historical figures whom Frayn extensively researched then imagined conversing in an afterlife on a circular stage space that has no specific time but three actual chairs. They speak sometimes to […]

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Magic Time!: ‘The Christians’ at Theater J

A debate about the existence of hell is combusting in the nation’s preeminent Jewish theater. And that particular drama in that particular venue could not be more anomalous. There is in Judaism no eternal damnation after death—no conception of it, thus no controversy over it. Not that there’s a shortage of guilt among Jews; there’s […]

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Magic Time! ‘Straight White Men’ at The Studio Theatre

Playwright Young Jean Lee’s audacious title refers to the particular—the white widowed father (Ed) and his three grown sons (Drew, Jake, and Matt) who are on stage for most of this naturalistic comedy—as well as the generality of straight white men (as in Jake’s mention of “people like us…privileged white dickheads”).  So one might reasonably […]

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Magic Time! ‘Rameau’s Nephew’ at Spooky Action Theater

There comes a scene in Rameau’s Nephew at Spooky Action Theater when Robert Bowen Smith playing He (the titular character) coughs an aria. Literally. Just like an opera singer except without music or lyrics. He goes on and on wordlessly, hackingly, raspingly, inflecting cough after ridiculous cough with a sincere and silly musicality that had […]

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Magic Time! ‘How To… Sex Education’ (Weekend Two)

Having enjoyed the first weekend of Rabble Crew Productions’ How To… Sex Education, I went back for seconds—another set of four short plays on the ever popular theme of sex…and the never popular topic of sex education. The cheeky conceit that connected the grab bag of two shows is that sex education can be fun […]

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Magic Time! ‘The Last Schwartz’ at Theater J

What is it that’s so tried and true about plays about siblings? Must be something universal, because there are so gosh darn many of them. Structurally they obviously make for auspicious cast lists, characters with built-in back stories of tensions and lingering resentments. A playwright has only to put the brothers or sisters in the […]

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Magic Time! ‘Cloud Nine’ at The Studio Theatre

Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, which premiered in London in 1979, is rightly considered a landmark play. It is pivotal for me personally as well, ever since I saw the legendary Tommy Tune production off-Broadway in 1981. At the time I was immersed in counter-cultural people’s theater, which tended to be wildly experimental in form but […]

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Page-to-Stage New Play Festival: Brave Soul Collective and African-American Collective Theater

Two of DC’s most important independent theater collectives bearing witness as black artists to #BlackLivesMatter are Brave Soul Collective and African-American Collective Theater (ACT). Both commemorated milestones Saturday with bills of new short plays in Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival. In the afternoon, Brave Soul marked its tenth anniversary with Tenfold: An Evening of Brave Soul Performances,  […]

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Magic Time! “I Think About How Badly I Can Break a Heart Today”: A Q&A with Audrey Cefaly, Author of ‘The Gulf’ at Signature Theatre

John: I first discovered your writing when I saw Maytag Virgin during the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, and as I said when I interviewed you back then, “it was one of those experiences of an artist’s work that make me want to see everything they do.” So when I learned that that Signature Theatre would […]

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