DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Digital Theater

30 online productions that wowed us and got us through theater shutdown.

Since theater in 2021 began online, we decided to start our annual staff favorite listings by recognizing the digital material made during the unprecedented 18-month closure of the theater industry. Theater makers across the DC metro region stepped up to the challenge of pivoting to online material, often with stellar results. Here are the online shows that wowed our critics. All of these outstanding productions were created for digital viewing or listening during the pandemic.

Ro Boddie as Jay in ‘A Boy and His Soul.’ Photo by Harold F. Burgess II.

A Boy and His Soul, Round House Theatre 
A beautiful piece of art celebrating Black joy, genuine love, and Soul music. Jay, a young man, returns to his childhood home to prepare it to be sold. In the basement, he comes upon crates of abandoned records and begins reminiscing about his family, the deep love his parents had, his acceptance of himself,  coming out to his family, and the music that filled their home and guided his life. Ro Boddie is brilliant as Jay, a character who carries the confidence and passion of a man bursting with a story to tell. There is a second star of the show, the music, a blend of disco, R&B, and classic soul. The songs ebb and flow throughout the production, at times taking over the moment and lulling Jay into the memory of the song, sometimes singing along, sometimes swaying, and always carrying the audience with him.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review.

Kuhoo Verma in Rona Siddiqui’s ‘A More Perfect Union.’ Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

A More Perfect Union, Arena Stage
Writer/Composer Rona Siddiqui imagines her relationship to America as a troubled romance in three songs in A More Perfect Union, a thrilling and joyous accomplishment, dazzlingly illustrated and breathtakingly performed. Siddiqui describes this work as an EP. And, indeed, it may be more recognizable to you as a set of three music videos, linked by a theme. Regardless of what you call it, it’s worth watching several times.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

Christopher Jackson, Nova Y. Payton, and the cast of ‘After Midnight.’ Photo by Christopher Mueller.

After Midnight, Signature Theatre
This vaudeville-like show — conceived by Jack Viertel, featuring the poetry of Langston Hughes — conjures up memories of dancing in nightclubs up and down the East Coast in the late 1950s. After Midnight features a cast of 12, headlined by Christopher Jackson, Nova Y. Payton, and Mark G. Meadows, who keeps things lively with his band of seven musicians. It’s tough to pinpoint an exact classification of Director/Choreographer Jared Grimes’s nonstop physical movement — a shoulder roll here, a slap on the thigh there, and enough hip-shaking to have worn out Elvis Presley in his prime. Some critics may suggest After Midnight works better in person on a proscenium stage. For me, though, I plan to watch this show over and over again. The filming, editing, lighting were all superb.
Read Carolyn Kelemen’s full review

All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, Shakespeare Theatre Company
STC’s first online-only production, All the Devils Are Here is adapted from the works of Shakespeare, written by and starring Patrick Page. The subject is the evolution of Shakespeare’s villains, from stock characters to multifaceted human beings. At every point, Page skillfully sets Shakespeare’s words in context, reminding us that the Elizabethan audience was full of arbitrary prejudices. In All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, Shakespeare Theatre Company Affiliated Artist Patrick Page brings us a different kind of magic: the artistry of an actor who has studied his characters deeply and understands them in every detail.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Heather Christian in the original film adaptation of the Bushwick Starr’s production of ‘Animal Wisdom.’

Animal Wisdom, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Heather Christian’s autobiographical revival concert rocks Woolly Mammoth — virtually. Christian prepares the audience for a Requiem Mass so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the spirits that are not yet in repose: “This is not a TV show. This is not a theater show. This is… something else.” The autobiographical piece is more of a tent revival rock concert than Catholic Mass, but it still upholds the deep traditions of storytelling and spirituality. The film was produced jointly by The Bushwick Starr, American Conservatory Theater, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and was filmed on location in March 2021 at Woolly Mammoth in DC. The original stage direction of Emilyn Kowaleski is adapted to the screen by Director Amber McGinnis. McGinnis finds the tricky balance of intimate closeups, handheld shots, and widescreen angles so that the viewer can stay engrossed without feeling overwhelmed or disconnected.
Read Laura Mills’ full review

Sue Jin Song in ‘Children of Medea.’ Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

Children of Medea, Constellation Theatre Company
Cynthia, 17, the main character in Sue Jin Song’s brilliant Children of Medea, has been abandoned by the one person who could theoretically guide her. Her mother has simply disappeared, leaving her to care for her 10-year-old sister, Julianne, with a father who is distant and always at work. Like many a gifted teenager before her, Cynthia takes refuge in her imagination. The unbearable pressure of her trauma, as well as her own talents, propels her into other times and other worlds. She is Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole. She is Euripides’ Medea, in love with her consort Jason and scorned by him.
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Cock, Studio Theatre
Directed by David Muse, as was the 2014 Studio production, Cock is a rock-solid, remastered-for-camera version of the Helen Hayes Award–winning play in a taut, tight performance on a spare set. Mike Bartlett’s characters deliver tasty morsels of spicy, pointed, hissy dialogue and rapier-sharp active wordplay along with comic moments to sugar up the tartness and pain. In its own way, Cock is a schoolyard brawl or perhaps a bare-knuckles boxing brawl. The technical production design is a winner. The dialogue and words and the film editing bring it all to powerful view.
Read David Siegel’s full review

Detroit ’67, Signature Theatre
Played out in a basement bunker, this uplifting virtual show spins on nostalgia and desire. The talent is top-notch. Written by prize-winning playwright and Detroiter Dominique Morisseau, Detroit ’67 sews up Signature Theatre’s Signature Features virtual season with slice-of-life precision, focusing not on the city at large but on one household on the verge of splintering. It’s a history lesson presented by director Candis C. Jones with respect, nostalgic flair, and soul-ripping realism.
Read Terry Byrne’s full review

Deidra LaWan Starnes as Wendy and Geoffrey Rivas as Mac in ‘Duck Harbor,’ episode 8. DCMTA screenshot.

Duck Harbor, 1st Stage
In what became an addictive web series of 12 extraordinary weekly episodes, Duck Harbor told a heartwarming story of long-distance love in later life. The two performers, Geoffrey Rivas and Deidra LaWan Starnes, were secretly cast; neither knew who the other character would be until the moment that the scene started. To enhance the spontaneous theatrical magic, each actor was given only his/her lines in the script several days before filming, with the other’s redacted so they were unaware of each other’s text. Writers Bob Bartlett and E. M. Lewis collaborated over months working through ideas and concepts to develop the scenes and episodes. Director Alex Levy helped to make sure that the tone, intent, and purpose come through as the script unfolded. Then it was up to the actors, working without a net, to find their voices using their own instincts in portraying the characters and where they were moment-to-moment with each other.
Read Debbie Minter Jackson’s episode-by-episode review of the series.

Justin Weaks (foreground) and DJ Nick tha 1da in ‘Flow.’ Photo courtesy of Studio Theatre. Video Production by Studiio Box DC.

Flow, Studio Theatre
Director Psalmayene 24 and actor-poet Justin Weaks join forces in Flow, bridging the gap between Old Skool rappers and new age Flowetry performers to trace the tragic footsteps of seven self-styled street storytellers. DJ Nick “the 1da” Hernandez sets a mystical mood with his blue sample keyboard propped on a double stack of milk crates holding vintage vinyl. But it is Justin Weaks’s seamless stream-of-character monologues and dialogues that carry the 90-minute mindbending journey through dangerous curves and blind corners.
Read Malcolm Lewis Barnes’s full review

Justin Weaks, Louis E. Davis, Gary L. Perkins III, and Shannon Dorsey ‘The Freewheelin’ Insurgents.’ Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

Freewheelin’ Insurgents, Arena Stage
A thoughtful and exhilarating 23-minute black-and-white film, Freewheelin’ Insurgents is Psalmayene 24’s contribution to Arena Riffs, a three-part, commissioned, filmed musical series that is a project of Arena Stage. A “Riff” seems like an especially appropriate label for work that encourages its characters and its audiences to give themselves permission to give attention to the unsettling moment they are living through so that they can imagine a tomorrow.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review

The cast of ‘Ghost/Writer’: Steve Polites and Dane Figueroa Edidi.

Ghost/Writer, a radio play from Rep Stage
Playwright Dane Figueroa Edidi mixes romance and vengeance and packs volumes of truth into language that alchemizes profound insights about racial injustice and sensuality. The play shifts place and time dramatically in ways that would take considerable stagecraft to achieve. As a radio play, though, the beautifully written narration Edidi has given her characters, combined with evocative sound effects, serve to invite us into worlds and otherworlds and fly us through time. We are left in our mind’s eye to set the scenes and take in the story. And what a story it is.
Read John Stoltenberg’s full review

Director Ayesis Clay and actor Karen Lawrence during ‘Girls’ Night’ recording session. Photo courtesy of The Welders.

Girls’ Night (with Spirits), an audio play from The Welders
An immersive and enjoyable audio play by Teshonne Nicole Powell about a Black woman who believes her home is being haunted. The second production from Welders 3.0, the third cohort of the DC playwrights collaborative, The Welders. Girls’ Night is unique in that Powell has chosen to present this exploration of the terror and healing in the lives of Black women as a radio drama. The narrative of Girls’ Night follows Rey, a Black millennial woman, who believes her home is being haunted. The presence of the ghost forces Rey to finally begin to face up to a shameful secret she has been struggling with and that comes into tangible focus as her home literally begins to crumble around her.
Read Debbie Minter Jackson’s full review
Read Gregory Ford’s interview with Playwright Teshonne Nicole Powell

Craig (Craig Wallace) and Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) in ‘Homebound.’

Homebound, Round House Theatre
Ten episodes written by ten different DC-area playwrights about ordinary (and extraordinary) life during the pandemic. The same two main characters are played throughout by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Craig Wallace. Directed by Ryan Rilette and Nicole A. Watson, an ambitious, fascinating, and well-executed weekly series that kept us connected to of-the-moment theater and, in a way, to one another.
Read Michael Poandl’s episode-by-episode review of the series

Fargo Tbakhi and Dina Soltan in Episode 1 of ‘Keffiyeh/Made in China.’ Screenshot courtesy of Mosaic Theater Company.

Keffiyeh, Made in China by Dalia Taha, Mosaic Theatre
In choosing to offer Keffiyeh: Made in China, Mosaic Theater has gifted us just that — a mosaic of short and trenchant pinhole theatrical views into the everyday tensions, fears, and losses experienced by the Palestinian people. While we all hope to return full-time to theaters worldwide, Mosaic’s successful online effort reminds us that we don’t have to sacrifice connectedness and artistic excellence even in these challenging times. Keffiyeh, Made in China is a haunting seven-part series of short plays featuring fabulous writing and great performances, all very well-suited to online viewing.
Read Amy Kotkin’s episode-by-episode review

Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen in ‘Midnight at The Never Get.’ Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Midnight at the Never Get, Signature Theatre
Trevor, a colorful and campy singer, and Arthur, a coy and talented songwriter, are trying to climb the ladder of the NYC nightclub scene while navigating the dangers of being gay men in a time when their love and the music they wanted to create was illegal. Told through the memories of Trevor, this vibrant and poignant musical (book, music, and lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick) follows the Friday night performances of their act of love, identity, and belonging set to Arthur’s Cole Porter–esque tunes. Directed by Matthew Gardiner, this nightclub musical combines the shmaltz of a cabaret with the pull of a Eugene O’Neill play to create something truly transporting, all from the comfort of your own home. Sam Bolen gives an astounding performance and Adam Honoré’s lighting was a triumph.
Read Em Skow’s full review

The artists of ‘Night at Newcastle’: Andre Hinds, Alan Naylor, and Rachel Felstein.

Night at Newcastle
Featuring outstanding live performances by Rachel Felstein, Andre Hinds, and Alan Naylor, Night at Newcastle was a weekly cabaret that enjoyed an extraordinary live run online. Their Facebook page modestly refers to themselves as a “group of DC Professional artists living, quarantin[ing], and singing music together to make the time pass by.” In what has to be one of the most inspired and sustained artistic responses to the COVID shutdown, these three extraordinary local theater talents (who happened to be housemates) began in April 2020 to perform original weekly cabaret concerts live, usually on Thursday nights, occasionally with special guests. A loyal audience of fans followed, grateful to behold in real time what makes musical theater performance beloved. Night at Newcastle’s finale was in July 2021, but videos of some of their most popular concerts can still be enjoyed online.

Jordan Friend

Old Soul, 4615 Theatre Company
Jordan Friend’s narrative concert — a tour de force on the trauma of turning 25 — is stunning in its intensity, power, honesty, and humor. Friend — whose company, 4615 Theatre, was named Best Emerging Theatre in last year’s Helen Hayes Awards — is enormously talented. He wrote and performed all the material. The result is outstanding in its range and its unexpected juxtapositions, both hilarious and painful, funny and scary to watch.

Benjamin Williamson and Paula Sides in ‘Orphée et Euridice.’ Photo courtesy of IN Series.

Orphee et Eurydice, IN Series
This modern retelling of Gluck’s classic 1762 opera features real-life married couple Benjamin Williamson and Paula Sides, along with their children Aurelia and Elijah, singing an English translation by Andrew Albin, while filmed in their home by Jan Capinski and directed by Timothy Nelson, with musical direction by Simone Luti. Williamson perfectly captures a husband and father grieving the loss of a loved one. This production felt right for a world where we are reeling from so many deaths from the pandemic.
Read Charles Green’s full review


Agnes (Emma Wesslund) faces down against Tiamat, a five-headed dragon, puppeted by the cast in ’She Kills Monsters.’ Dragon puppet and photo by Leigh K. Rawls.

She Kills Monsters, Silver Spring Stage
The design elements are incredibly well-done in this production, in which a teacher becomes deeply involved in her deceased teenage sister’s Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game scenario. Lighting Designer Stephen Deming transitions seamlessly between the “real” world and the game world and uses shadow puppets at the beginning. Set Designer Leigh K. Rawls and Costume Designer Stephanie Yee have a cleverly done design for the “big bad” that the party faces at the end. Fight and Intimacy Director Sierra Young gives the battles a stylized feel while remaining exciting and uncertain, one battle even done in slow motion. Choreographer KT Aylesworth gives the actors many great movements, some even doing cartwheels.
Read Charles Green’s full review

Da’Von T. Moody as Jermal and Cormac Elliott as Connor in ‘Side-Walks.’ DCMTA screenshot.

Side-Walks, Solas Nua
A commission by Dublin-based artist John King and DC-based artist Jeremy Keith Hunter, Side-Walks is a beautifully told visual short story that celebrates the complexity and fluidity of human existence. Designer Patrick W. Lord and Director/Composer Rex Daugherty create a seamless experience of sites and sounds with a track that plays perfectly into the journey, guiding the pace and tone. Carrying the story into an almost musical experience at times. But the narrators are the core of the story. Cormac Elliott voices Connor, a young man from Northern Ireland, going to school in Dublin, who ultimately makes his way to the States. And Da’Von T. Moody is Jermal, a young student from the U.S., who finds himself headed to Dublin with a friend for a fun, easy adventure.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review

Miss Kitty (Specs), Danielle Gallo (Tank), and Ryan Sellers (Locksmith) in ‘The Spy Academy: The Heart of the Dragon.’ Photo courtesy of Imagination Stage.

Spy Academy and the Lost Treasure of Atlantis, Imagination Stage
A fantastically entertaining conglomerate of action, adventure, suspense, and pure silliness perfect for ages 5 and up. While kids were stuck at home at the height of COVID, Imagination Stage gave them an outlet for their imaginations. Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? Spy Academy let kids chime in on how the story should advance and felt like a live-action immersive video game. Conceptualized by Strother Gaines and written by Doug Robinson, the piece is co-directed by Gaines and Jeffrey Eagle, and the action switches between live interaction and recorded sequences (filmed by Leapfrog Productions) with news clips or security footage of the spies on assignment.
Read Kendall Mostafavi’s full review

Travis Schweiger as Vince, Chelsea J. Smith as Amy, and Neal Davidson as Jon in ‘Tape.’

Tape, The SharedScreen:
This scorching live production of Stephen Belber’s 1999 play is a successful experiment in embracing the present virtual reality of theater. With the playwright’s permission, Tape was adapted by Neal Davidson specifically for the Zoom platform. Instead of a meetup in a motel room with three old friends, as the original script dictates, this production is framed as an actual video call. By adapting Tape so that Zoom is integrated into the piece from the bottom up, Davidson normalizes the format, effectively rendering the video call platform, such an encumbrance in other pandemic pieces, almost invisible. By making the format incidental to the piece, Davidson allows the keen writing and brilliant performances to shine.
Read Michael Poandl’s full review

Jared Shamberger in ’The B Word.’ Photo courtesy of The Welders.

The B Word, The Welders
The first production by Welders cohort 3.0, The B Word by Jared Shamberger is inspired by and devised from interviews with Black gay men across the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area who were asked to speak about the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell and filmed in a documentary-style format, it allows for an examination of how the concept of beauty functions in the lives of Black gay men.
Read Debbie Minter Jackson’s full review
Read Gregory Ford’s interview with Playwright Jared Shamberger

Jade Jones as Bonita and Louis Davis as Do or Die, members of rap crew Key Enterprises; Bayou Elom as Sgt. Pepper and Emmanuel Kyei-baffour as Ty, members of rap crew Lock Music, in ‘The Blackest Battle.’ Photo courtesy of Theater Alliance.

The Blackest Battle, Theater Alliance
Director Raymond O. Caldwell’s realization of Psalmayene 24’s The Blackest Battle — a graphic novel come to life as a hip-hop musical — is a feast of virtuosity. Whereas some have been frustrated with not having access to live theater, Theater Alliance has taken this opportunity to offer something that some of us might not sit still for in the usual sanctum sanctorum of live theater. In fact, the point of this production is kind of to make us not be able to (or want to) sit still or sit back. The Blackest Battle presents theater that more fully engages the potential of hip-hop than is often possible in “legit” stages where traditional audiences may come with curated expectations and sometimes merely tolerate the hip-hop form and keep its power at a distance. This production, though onscreen, is an immersive experience.
Read Gregory Ford’s full review
View a photo gallery of images from the show

Cormac Elliot and Da’Von Moody in ‘The Emoji Play.’

The Emoji Play (👨🏾‍💻😷👨‍💻), Solas Nua
Playwrights Jeremy Keith Hunter (DC-based) and John King (Ireland-based) use audience participation in a refreshingly original, boundary-pushing comedy that both comments on our times and navigates around them to provide something that isn’t quite theater, but isn’t not theater either. 👨🏿‍💻😷👨🏼‍💻 is “staged” on two platforms: Zoom and WhatsApp. The premise is that we the audience are “students” taking a Zoom class about digital language. The two instructors are Da’Von Moody (of Silver Spring) and Cormac Elliott (of London). The show is about the relationship between Cormac and Da’Von, and about Cormac’s recent breakup with his ex-boyfriend. Along the way, audience participation is requested via a shared WhatsApp thread, and a sort of flash community was generated between the two actors and audience members. At one point Cormac says, “Knowing that people are with you—it’s nice, right?” And it really is.
Read Michael Poandl’s full review

Ramsey Faragallah as Dad and Yousof Sultani as Son in ‘This Is Who I Am.’ Photo credit: PlayCo / Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

This Is Who I Am, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Ramsey Faragallah and Yousof Sultani play a father and son on a Zoom call from Palestine and America, respectively, while cooking a beloved meal. They give such compelling, intimate performances that it feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. Set Designer Mariana Sanchez turns the actors’ real-life kitchens into stages, subtly highlighting the difference between the two. Lighting Designer Reza Behjat makes the light look natural while keeping the performers and their kitchens visible. Sound Designer James Ard makes sure the actors can be heard while throwing in traffic sounds just as the camera opens. Before that, a piano plays a haunting note. Video Systems Designer Ido Levran provides a clear, seamless picture that softens the feel of technology. This production blends the best aspects of live-action and technology.
Read Charles Green’s full review

Home haircut: James Jelin (Jamie). DC Metro Theater Arts screengrab.

This Zoom Life, Washington Improv Theater
Nothing else I’ve seen created with Zoom during COVID comes close to the comic achievement in this web series about millennials and their socially distanced dilemmas. Its wit and absurd verisimilitude are an utter delight. This Zoom Life was created by Peruvian comedian Erick Acuña in a partnership with Washington Improv Theater (WIT). It zeroes in on the zeitgeist with so many zingers and such zest that when I came to the end I could not help but want more. (This Zoom Life is still playing on YouTube in five episodes, each about seven minutes long.)
Read John Stoltenberg’s full review

Lisa Stephen Friday in ‘Trans Am.’ Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

Trans Am, The Keegan Theatre
Lisa Stephen Friday is an actress and singer. This one-person show, interspersed with music, is her story. She is ambitious, driven, and trans. With help, she learns to face the enormousness of what it is to be trans in America. Loss of childhood. Inability to grow up female. Being told that she is shameful, degenerate, worthless. The struggle with internalized transphobia. In her last musical number, she reminds us, she is “A-OK,” having shed the self-hatred caused by her oppression. The music of Lisa Jackson & Girl Friday is a provocative counterpoint to the dramatic highlights of Lisa’s story. Yes, Lisa, you are indeed A-OK! You are an inspiration to us all. (Trans Am will enjoy a live production at The Keegan Theatre this January.)
Read Sophia Howes’ full review

Ora Jones, Billie Krishawn, and Felicia Curry in ‘Until the Flood.’ Photos courtesy of Studio Theatre.

Until the Flood, Studio Theatre
Dael Orlandersmith’s Until the Flood brings the viewer into the conversation. You couldn’t be more active as a listener in this simple, seamless filmed performance that has the feel of a “one take,” unedited, linear experience in time. Until the Flood is as close to actually being in a theater as you can get. The brilliant cast consists of three women, of various generations, who interconnect with composite characters created from responses Orlandersmith collected from some 60 individuals in the spring of 2015 following the shooting of Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The characters represent people with day-to-day lives, and within their few words, you find a familiarity and connection to their experiences of police violence and systemic racism.
Read Jane Franklin’s full review

SEE ALSO:

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Professional Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Design Elements in Professional Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Design Elements in Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performances in Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Community Theater Productions

DCMTA 2021 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Professional Theater Productions

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