It’s here. Bright lights and glittering tinsel adorn our streets and living rooms. Plans are in place for Christmas dinner and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the year! This month’s column reviews theater that encourages us to think about fate, family and what it means to be human as we close out the calendar, reflect on our choices and look ahead to 2024. Read on for our curated selection.
On Right Now
The Seafarer, Round House Theatre
Showing Dec. 6 – 31
Family reunions aren’t always the joyous occasions we see in TV and film. The Seafarer, a play written by Irish playwright, director and screenwriter Conor McPherson in 2006 and now being reinterpreted for DC audiences by Round House’s Artistic Director Ryan Rilette, brings this hard truth home in a visceral way.
McPherson’s play tells the tale of Sharky who, after the catastrophic collapse of his personal and professional life, returns to Dublin on Christmas Eve to care for his ill-tempered and hard-drinking brother Richard. Enter a few characters from Sharky’s past—and a mysterious stranger with a fondness for poke—and you have the recipe for an intoxicating mix of human drama with a touch of McPherson’s penchant for the supernatural thrown in.
“What I love about Conor’s writing is that he has a beautiful way of capturing people that are lost, sad or lonely, and doing it in a way that is still extraordinarily funny and human.” says Rilette, who’s directed a few of McPherson’s works during his career. The Seafarer has been re-interpreted many times on various stages since it garnered a 2007 Olivier Award nomination for Best Play, but at the core it’s a story of second chances and the triumphs and tribulations of being human, according to Rilette. “What the play does is help us recognize that the small things, the things we often overlook, a sense of community; that is heaven in earth. If there’s a perfect holiday message, it’s to cherish the people in your life and enjoy the time you have together.”
If you’ve come to love Round House’s reputation for staging classic stories with riveting storylines, then The Seafarer should be on your diary for December.
In The Spotlight
Ragtime, Signature Theatre
Showing 24 Oct – 7 Jan
There’s nothing quite as energizing and uplifting as a musical, and you’ll get showtunes galore in Signature Theatre’s rendition of the Broadway smash hit Ragtime.
Signature’s Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner and his team bring to the stage this toe-tapping Broadway hit based on the novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow. Published in 1975, Doctorow’s work serves as a warning to not repeat the mistakes of the past by forgetting our history, and his story is as relevant today as it was written.
The action sweeps across the first few years of the early 20th Century— the so-called “Gilded Age”—before the outbreak of WWI and at the height of the Industrial era; a time of men, machines and money. A stellar lineup including Nkrumah Gatling, Awa Sal Secka and Bobby Smith along with a powerful ensemble cast don corsets, waistcoats and top hats to tell the stories of legendary historical figures from this period, and the fictional ways their lives intersect. All this is set to a lyrical Ragtime repertoire.
There’s a strong theme of social justice that loops through the action, stitching the various narratives together and making the production easily relatable to contemporary audiences. In the grimy faces of European immigrants Tather and his waiflike daughter, it’s easy to see the plight of Palestinian refugees or migrants from Africa. Gatling’s Coalhouse Walker Jr., in his battle to be treated as equal, sets the tone for what will become the Civil Rights Movement, and Dani Stoller’s Emma Goldman and her fiery denouncements of capitalism evokes our current economic and social disparities.
Sal Secka and Teal Wicks’ performances (as Sarah and Mother respectively) administer a strong dose of fresh, female energy to a musical based on a traditionally masculine period in history. Sal Secka’s rendition of Your Daddy’s Son in Act One is particularly breathtaking as she showcases her impressive vocal range with pathos and passion in equal measure.
Catch Before Closing
A Christmas Carol, Ford’s Theatre
Showing 17 Nov– 31 Dec
It wouldn’t be Christmas without Charles Dickens’ classic tale of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. This holiday staple has been a constant, in various iterations, at Ford’s Theatre for 40 years, and this year sees Kimberly Gilbert take to the stage as the Ghost of Christmas Present in the Michael Wilson adaptation of Dickens’ work. I sat down with this Helen Hayes award-winning actor to chat to her about being grateful, living in the moment and creating positive change.
It’s been a tough year in terms of world news. How does A Christmas Carol uplift our spirits?
Kimberly: We live in a present where data is king. We’re being sucked into this data hurricane where it feels insurmountable. I do find parallels right now about how we’re fearful and curious about AI and data. It’s very similar to the Industrial Revolution (when A Christmas Carol was originally written). But what this play can show is that when we’re in a time of crisis, we can really appreciate the small things, and you can do that all the time. Work the practice of being mindful.
How is A Christmas Carol still relevant to audiences today?
Kimberly: It’s the idea of being present, literally. That this moment on earth is all we have. We are only here for a short while. Making someone else feel good makes you feel good. It has a ripple effect.
Has it been fun working with a team who’ve been part of A Christmas Carol for 40 years?
Kimberly: Craig Wallace has been playing Scrooge for eight years. Tom Story has been slowly moving through the character ranks. The producers have been with it forever. Ford’s has allowed me to embrace the traditional side and they’ve been so patient with me. They know the topography of the entire production, but they acknowledge that I’m doing this in a way that hasn’t been done before and adding new layers. I’m being blown away by a traditional script that has the ability to be adaptable and changeable. I’m also having the time of my life with the kids.
What’s the message you’d like to leave audiences with?
Kimberly: I think we are in a furrowed brow, head down, in our phone phase. The act of looking up and giving someone a smile can create a moment of generosity. Take a moment and be generous in whatever capacity you have.