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Century-old play resonates with today’s immigration issues

Elenilson Ayala (second, left) and members rehearse for ‘The Melting Pot.’ COURTESY PHOTO Elenilson Ayala (second, left) and members rehearse for ‘The Melting Pot.’ COURTESY PHOTO  Sometimes a play written decades ago seems contemporary.

That’s the case with “The Melting Pot,” a play British author Israel Zangwill wrote in 1908 about anti-Semitism and the hatred of immigrants.

It’s the inaugural production of a new performing organization, the Jewish Community Theater of Montgomery County, along with the Temple Beth Ami Players.

“There’s been no dedicated Jewish theater in the County for like 30 years,” said David Fialkoff, director. “And the County has such a large Jewish population.”

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Expectations about grieving clash in Unexpected Stage’s ‘sad comedy’

Emily Morrison and Ruthie Rado, play the widowed daughter and mother-in-law in Unexpected Stage’s “How to Be a Good Little Widow.”  COURTESY PHOTOEmily Morrison and Ruthie Rado, play the widowed daughter and mother-in-law in Unexpected Stage’s “How to Be a Good Little Widow.” COURTESY PHOTO  One thing Ruthie Rado likes about the D.C. area – to which she returned after years away – is its “rich artistic community that feels like a community.”

Life is different for Melody, the isolated character Rado plays in “How to Be a Good Little Widow.”

At 26, Melody finds herself a widow, when her slightly older husband dies in a plane crash. Many of those around her, especially her mother-in-law, Hope, expect Melody to mourn a certain way. The older woman belongs to a widows’ league, whose members know “all the rules.”

Because Melody had moved cross country to marry Craig, she lacks a sense of community. She had never been to a funeral before, and expected life to be different.

The “sad comedy,” as playwright Bekah Brunstetter called her work, is Unexpected Stage Company’s next production.

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Play grieves for those lost to suicide and offers prevention hope

The cast of “Right Before I go” with the playwright Stan Zimmerman (in the middle wearing a tie). COURTESY PHOTOThe cast of “Right Before I Go” with playwright Stan Zimmerman (in the middle wearing a tie). COURTESY PHOTOA few years before the latest disturbing statistics were released from the Centers for Disease Control, indicating a spike in suicide rates by more than 30 percent in half the country from 1999 to 2016 – and before the latest high-profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef-author-travel guide Anthony Bourdain stunned the world – Stan Zimmerman experienced suicide up close and personal.

A good friend took his own life in May 2012.

Zimmerman, who had been primarily a comedy writer and infused even his serious plays with humor, decided to write a play with little lightness.

“I was looking to process my own grief through the play,” said Zimmerman, who called his work “Right Before I Go.”

Monday night saw a one-night-only performance at The Ratner Museum in Bethesda to benefit two prominent suicide-awareness and prevention nonprofits: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) and JED Foundation (JEDFoundation.org).

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Striking “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage

From left, Diana Lee Arnold, Louis Pangaro, and Susan Harper star in “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage.  COURTESY PHOTOFrom left, Diana Lee Arnold, Louis Pangaro, and Susan Harper star in “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage. COURTESY PHOTOHas company you didn’t expect or want ever fallen in on you?

That’s one of the dilemmas facing the protagonists of “A Delicate Balance,” the first of Edward Albee’s three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, a Tony Award nominee, and the next production at Silver Spring Stage.

It takes place over one weekend in the living room of a suburban home belonging to Agnes and Tobias, a long-married, middle-aged, upper-class couple who are comfortable financially, but not emotionally.

They’re already besieged by Claire, Agnes’s live-in alcoholic sister, when their supposedly best friends Harry and Edna arrive, running from an unnamed “terror” in their own home. Agnes strives to remain complacent, but teeters on the brink when her daughter also shows up after her fourth marriage breaks up.

“As with many things in life, what makes the play challenging is also what makes it satisfying,” said Fred Zirm, who is making his directorial debut at the Stage. “Albee deals with some raw, fundamental emotions – fear, guilt, anger, and resentment, as well as love and compassion – that can be difficult to deal with in both life and on stage.”

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Olney’s “Crucible” finds new life in Miller’s classic drama

Choreographer Kelly Crandall d’Amboise with Dani Stoller, other cast members, rehearsing ‘The Crucible.’ COURTESY PHOTOChoreographer Kelly Crandall d’Amboise with Dani Stoller, other cast members, rehearsing ‘The Crucible.’ COURTESY PHOTO  As literally written and usually played, Abigail Williams is the antagonist of “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s 1953 dramatized and fictionalized play about the Salem Witch Trials.

The seductive 17-year-old has had an affair with her married 35-year-old employer, John Proctor, and subsequently lost her job. Still in love with him, she takes advantage of the mass hysteria to accuse his wife, Elizabeth, of witchcraft in the hope of replacing her.

But Dani Stoller, the Abigail in the Olney Theatre Center production, sees her as more complex, with more justification for her actions.

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Recluse embraces life at world’s end in Highwood Theatre’s ‘Soon’

Cast of student actors – in rep with adult pro production – of ‘Soon’ at Highwood Theatre.  COURTESY PHOTO Cast of student actors – in repertory with adult professional production – of "Soon" at Highwood Theatre. COURTESY PHOTO  It was a dream come true. When Nick Blaemire and his half-brother, James Gardiner, were only 22, they opened a play on the Great White Way.

“We wrote a show called ‘Glory Days,’ which Eric Schaeffer was kind enough to produce at Signature Theatre,” said Blaemire. “The next year the show went to Broadway.”

Although “Glory Days” closed on opening night, he called the experience “one hell of a ride.”

Since then, the theatrical jack-of-all-trades has appeared in a few Broadway shows, and in the off-Broadway revival of the musical “Tick Tock Boom!”

When Signature presented his musical “Soon” – for which Blaemire had written the book, lyrics, and music – It “was among the most joyous times of my life,” he said. “Signature has been my home away from home.”

“Soon” is now coming to The Highwood Theatre, reflecting the season’s theme of “Off Your Rocker.” The play also constitutes Highwood’s fifth annual Open Source Festival – redefining the conception of traditional nights at the theater, said Matthew Nicola, artistic director.

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Morality argued against the backdrop of slavery in “Nat Turner”

Cast members Jon Hudson Odom and Joseph Carlson (in front) relax with playwright Nathan Alan Davis and director Jose Carrasquillo (standing behind) during rehearsal of The Forum Theatre production of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem.”  COURTESY PHOTOCast members Jon Hudson Odom and Joseph Carlson (in front) relax with playwright Nathan Alan Davis and director Jose Carrasquillo during rehearsal of The Forum Theatre production of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem.” COURTESY PHOTO  When is behavior so egregious that violence is a justifiable response?  

That’s one of the pressing questions in “Nat Turner in Jerusalem,” a new play by Nathan Alan Davis that workshopped at the New Theatre Workshop in New York City and is about to have its second production at The Forum Theatre.

The charismatic leader of an insurrection of slaves and free blacks in 1831 Virginia, Turner was highly intelligent and educated, with a strong sense of conviction in the rightness of his cause and the belief God spoke to him in visions.

Some 55 whites died during the revolt, which he viewed as just, because of the evils of slavery.  

In the play Turner sits in jail, 12 hours before his execution. He debates his actions and their repercussions with Thomas Gray, the local attorney who had earlier published Turner’s recollections.

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Theater troupe with British flair offers play about retired opera singers

Duke Madalenna 4 copy QuartetAngela Cannon (left) and Peter Harrold (right) rehearse opera in British Players’ “Quartet.” COURTESY PHOTO  It’s probably not often a foreign embassy launches and, for a time, houses a theatrical group. But such were the origins of The British Players, a community theater that started at the British Embassy.

“There are a large number of British ex-pats here who were looking for a niche,” said Matthew Ratz, director of “Quartet,” the Players’ upcoming production. “But after 9/11, security considerations made it impossible to have open-attendance events.”

After moving to a few locations, The British Players settled at Kensington Town Hall.

The troupe stages several productions a year – a pantomime around Christmastime; a music-hall show; and a traditional play that could be a farce, comedy, drama, or murder mystery.

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A poignant "Steel Magnolias" comes to Kensington

Steel MagnoliasEdye Smith and Emily Karol rehearse scene from “Steel Magnolias.”   COURTESY PHOTO  After the death of his younger sister to diabetes, American writer Robert Harling penned a short story, “Steel Magnolias,” which he later adapted into the 1987 off-Broadway hit play.

Harling also wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film version, which became a hit on the strength of the performances of its powerhouse ensemble cast which included Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley Maclaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah.

While director John Nunemaker might lack Harling’s family history, his background – a childhood spent in a rural area north of Hagerstown and getting his hair cut at a beauty salon – meshes with the play’s inherent strengths to give him a strong affinity for “Steel Magnolias,” which opens next month at Kensington Arts Theatre, where Nunemaker also serves as the theater’s artistic director.

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Trying to discover the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow in Rockville theater

  • Published in Local

Clare Shaffer has a definite preference for drama.

Since arriving in the DC area three years ago to take an internship at Olney Theatre Center, the now-independent director has staged productions of such shows as “Man of La Mancha.” Soon she will tackle “Sweeney Todd.”

But Shaffer not only offered to direct “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Rockville Musical Theatre; she also was the person who suggested that the theater present it.

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