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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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Magic Time! DC Black Theatre Festival: ‘The Laundry Room’

The DC Black Theatre Festival this year offered some 45 self-produced shows, most one time only. Organized annually by the DC Drama Department, a nonprofit educational theater company, the festival featured performances in four categories: drama, deaf artists, family, and inspirational. I have sampled and reported on a few—but to fully appreciate the festival’s unique […]

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Magic Time! DC Black Theatre Festival: ‘7 Layers Captive’

The DC Black Theatre Festival this year offered some 45 self-produced shows, most one time only. Organized annually by the DC Drama Department, a nonprofit educational theater company, the festival featured performances in four categories: drama, deaf artists, family, and inspirational. I have sampled and reported on a few—but to fully appreciate the festival’s unique […]

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DC Black Theatre Festival: ‘Somethin’ Like Eatonville’

The DC Black Theatre Festival, which runs through June 26, this year offers some 45 self-produced shows, most one time only. Organized annually by the DC Drama Department, a nonprofit educational theater company, the festival features performances in four categories: drama, deaf artists, family, and inspirational. I’ll be sampling, and reporting on, a few—but to […]

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Magic Time! The DC Black Theatre Festival: ‘Confessions of a Homo Thug Porn Star’

The DC Black Theatre Festival, which runs through June 26, this year offers some 45 self-produced shows, most one time only. Organized annually by the DC Drama Department, a nonprofit educational theater company, the festival features performances in four categories: drama, deaf artists, family, and inspirational. I’ll be sampling, and reporting on, a few—but to […]

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Magic Time! ‘Grounded’ at The Studio Theatre

Sometimes an extraordinary piece of theater plays like a synecdoche on steroids. It serves as a small part that represents a vast whole with astounding force. A window that lets us see something more calamitous than what’s there in particular before our eyes. A microcosm that exposes a horrific macrocosm. The solo play Grounded does just that. […]

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Magic Time! ‘Cock’ at The Studio Theatre

If this were a theater review it would be an effusive rave. The production of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock now at The Studio Theatre is impeccable: The lighting, the sound, the direction, the casting, the acting, all are flawless. Whatever praise you’ve read about the show is likely all true. If you’ve been tempted but […]

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Magic Time! ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre’s new production of The Threepenny Opera—directed and choreographed with unerring cunning by Matthew Gardiner—is cringe-inducing, snarky, impudent, and jarring. Everything it’s meant to be. And I cannot imagine this subversive classic could look, sound, and play any better. The show’s in-your-face surprises start in the MAX Theatre entranceway, where a devised BBC broadcast […]

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‘Golda’s Balcony’ at Theater J

There’s not a long list of great actors who, through their indelible bravura depiction of a great historical figure in a solo performance, warrant substituting the word “is” for “as,” in billing like “So-and-So Is Famous Person.” On audiences’ mental marquees, the actor and the role become one, such that people come to know and […]

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Magic Time! ‘Arguendo’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company by John Stoltenberg

Watching Arguendo—an actual Supreme Court transcript staged cheekily for chuckles by Elevator Repair Service, the New York–based troupe specializing in literary vérité—is like watching a 70-minute Saturday Night Live sketch. The text faithfully depicts arguments before the Court in a 1990 case called Barnes vs. Glen Theatre,which litigated whether women dancing onstage for pay in a non-alcohol adult […]

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‘If/Then’ at The Richard Rodgers Theatre

If/Then, the musical with the biggest heart you can imagine, is now back home in the Big Apple, and just like its main character, Elizabeth (the incomparable Idina Menzel), it is starting over in Manhattan, right where it belongs. I admit to having first met and fallen in love with If/Then during its out-of-town fling […]

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Magic Time! ‘Hair’ at The Keegan Theatre

When I saw the original Broadway production of Hair in the late sixties, my hair was shoulder length, and the slogan “Make love not war!” referred to pacifism pre-9/11 and fluid exchange pre-AIDs. Times have changed a lot (and I’m more shorn), yet this legendary “American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” rocks on, its spirit and heartbeat […]

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‘Normal’ at Molotov Theatre Group

Molotov Theatre Group has an uncanny knack for converting its tiny black-box nook into an auditorium-scale operating theater for surgical dissection of the dark side of human nature. With its new production of Normal, observers in attendance at the unflinching examination get an artfully horrifying experience that is both fascinating and profound. As dextrously directed by […]

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‘American Idiot’ at The National Theatre by John Stoltenberg

Among the exhilarating pleasures of seeing American Idiot now on tour at the National Theatre is experiencing this angsty, amped-up ode to antiestablishment disaffection performed full force in DC’s treasured temple of high culture. It’s a discombobulating blast. And Billie Joe Armstrong’s wildly imagined lyrics—scathingly antipathetic to conventional patriotism—keep detonating like verbal grenades. Don’t want to be […]

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Magic Time! ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater by John Stoltenberg

It takes a wagonload of courage to take on Brecht these days. His “alienation effect” esthetic challenges every theatrical convention that makes a show a contemporary commercial success. He explicitly intended that audiences not get emotionally caught up in his stories and characters. He eschewed sentimentality; he embraced skepticsm and cynicism. He expected the political […]

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‘Yellow Face’ at Theater J by John Stoltenberg

If there was an open casting call for the role of you, who should get the part and who shouldn’t? Must the actor be descended from a gene pool that arose in the same area on the globe that yours did? Or could the actor’s family tree be traced back to some otherforest on the planet? Theater J’s […]

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Playing (with) Gender in WSC Avant Bard’s ‘Orlando’: Acting Insights from Sara Barker and Jay Hardee by John Stoltenberg

Orlando, WSC Avant Bard’s upcoming production, is based on Virginia Woolf’s classic 1928 novel in which Woolf based the character Orlando on the woman she was madly in love with. In both the book and in the play—adapted for the stage by renowned playwright Sarah Ruhl—Orlando starts out as a boy then midway through becomes […]

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