Pols and players perk up ‘Will on the Hill’ for Shakespeare Theatre Company

The company's annual fundraiser for arts education has fun with the Bard.

For one brief shining moment, there was bipartisanship in Washington. It occurred with the 2020 online edition of STC’s 18th annual Will on the Hill, broadcast on Monday, September 14, 2020.

The principal cast of this year’s Will on the Hill featured some of our most talented actors: E. Faye Butler, Felicia Curry, Christopher Michael Richardson, Holly Twyford, Michael Urie, and STC Affiliated Artist Gregory Wooddell. Members of Congress from both sides participated, as well as assorted notables.

The cast of ‘Will on the Hill, Or Won’t They?’ (clockwise from top left): Christopher Michael Richardson, Holly Twyford, E. Faye Butler, Michael Urie, Felicia Curry, Gregory Wooddell.

The event benefits STC’s arts education programs, which reach nearly 20,000 students and teachers, annually providing in-school and online workshops, free teaching materials, and free or deeply subsidized tickets. Artistic Director Simon Godwin gave an introduction emphasizing the value of Shakespeare in teaching empathy, critical thinking, and engagement with others.

It was a treat to see some of the students and counselors from this year’s Virtual Camp Shakespeare, headed by Director Julane Havens. Each year the camp gives participants ages 7 to 18 the opportunity to enter the world of the Bard. This year, more than 200 pupils from 18 different states and Canada were able to transform into Shakespeare’s characters, analyze his text, develop acting skills, connect with other campers, and offer a recorded, shareable performance to family and friends. Virtual Camp Shakespeare is a perfect example of the treasure that is STC arts education.

Gregory Wooddell (Ronny) and Felicia Curry (Jessica) romance in ‘Will on the Hill, Or Won’t They?’

The conceit of Will on the Hill, Or Won’t They was that two Senators’ aides, Ronny (Gregory Wooddell) and Jessica (Felicia Curry) must conceal their romantic relationship because they are, shockingly, from different parties! Ronny is not a Shakespeare fan, while Jessica is well-versed enough to join Michael Urie in the famous Richard III–Lady Anne scene, in which Richard seduces her over the body of her dead father-in-law, whom he killed. Bravo!

Faye Butler (Senator Jones) and Holly Twyford (Senator Smith) bickered throughout about a Meet the Press appearance that went tragically wrong. The Director (Christopher Michael Richardson), who was handling the R&J–themed play-within-the-play, contemplated taking Xanax and staring at the wall, which sounded like a good idea.

Holly Twyford (Sen. Smith) and E. Faye Butler (Sen. Jones) bicker in ‘Will on the Hill, Or Won’t They?’

The main plot was interspersed with actors, Congress members, and others in cameo roles, reciting various Shakespearean snippets.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) gave a stirring rendition of “O, for a muse of fire!” the Prologue from Henry V. STC Affiliated Artist Franchelle Stewart Dorn enacted Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Harry Hamlin essayed the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V.

The great Stacy Keach (STC Affiliated Artist) honored us with a few lines from Macbeth. Kelley Curran, Clytemnestra in STC’s The Oresteia, performed one of Miranda’s speeches. André De Shields recited “To be or not to be.” Tracie Thoms (from STC’s Virtual Mock Trial) also appeared, as did Finn Wittrock from STC’s Romeo and Juliet and American Horror Story.

The politicians acquitted themselves quite well, as they usually do. Among them were Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Rep. André Carson (D-IN),  Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) (and his daughter, Margaret, an actress in her own right), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Senator Angus King (I-ME), Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP-Bridgwater and West Sommerset, Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV), Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dame Karen Pierce, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), also Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

Other performers included Marla Allard, Steve Clemons, Editor-at-Large, The Hill, Bernie McKay, Karishma Page, and Vin Roberti. Co-Chairs, Will on the Hill, Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform, Bob Cusack, Editor-in-Chief, The Hill, Chris Jennings, Executive Director, STC.

It was lovely to see so many STC favorites such as STC Affiliated Artist Floyd King, although I felt that implying that he was technically challenged smacked of ageism.

And, amazingly for Congress, some people did agree on some things: The Merchant of Venice is a bad play. Ben Shapiro was not there. You can’t lie in soliloquies (this from Michael Urie). Robby Mook’s name was dropped, as was Joe Biden’s.

Someone put up a sign saying “Think of the children, please,” a nod to Nancy Pelosi.

The script could have been wittier and more dramatic. However, Playwright Nat Cassidy likely faced considerable obstacles in adapting his original version, which was scheduled for the stage. Director Samantha Wyer Bello and Video Editor and Designer Gordon Nimmo-Smith excelled in their roles. Kudos to all who appeared. Any effort in the cause of bipartisanship should rightly be celebrated. And what better cause is there than arts education? As in so many other things, the Shakespeare Theatre Company leads the way.

The 2020 STC Will on the Hill was broadcast on Monday, September 14, 2020. It remains available for view online until Thursday, September 17, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

All proceeds go to STC’s education and community engagement programs. To donate text WOTH to 91999 or visit igfn.us/form/h2R6aw. For more information contact STC’s Corporate Giving Office at 202-547-3230 ext. 2323 or WOTH@ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She is a playwright and director. An early draft of her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied English at Barnard, and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time Real Estate Editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

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