Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: August, 2019

Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine

It takes a certain talent to turn topics that are no laughing matter into laugh-out-loud comedy that doesn’t condescend, doesn’t ridicule, and yet imbues life with meaning as only art can. That kind of talent is on sensational display in Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation, now playing at the Atlas. A delightful picker-upper about being down and out, Mosaic’s season-opener Fabulation combines hilarity with heartfelt honesty with show-stopping performances—and it’s an outright joy.

The play’s subtitle, The Re-Education of Undine, refers to the riveting character arc of 37-year-old Undine Barnes Calles. Called Sharona as a child, she grew up in the projects in Brooklyn, went to Dartmouth, left her family and roots behind, renamed and remade herself, and now—unapologetically bourgie—owns a boutique PR firm in Manhattan. In a bad-romance plot twist—her husband absconds with all her money—she’s forced to move in with her family and face a profusion of underclass predicaments that require her to invent herself all over again.

Felicia Curry (Undine) and Lauryn Simone (Stephie) in ‘Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

The phenomenal Felicia Curry plays Undine and is reason enough not to miss this show. In direct addresses to the audience, she takes us into her confidence, makes us care about her even when she goes virago. Her eyelashes aflutter, her voice quaking with indignation and self-pity, she stalks the stage in glam heels in full command of Undine’s snark, vulnerability, and rage.

Felicia Curry (Undine) and Carlos Saldaña (Hervé) in ‘Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

Among her supporting cast while she’s still rich and elite are her fashion-challenged assistant Stephie (an amusingly sassy Lauryn Simone) and her bearer-of-bad-news Accountant (a forthright yet sympathetic James Whalen). We also hear briefly from Undine’s Latin ex-lover, her feckless husband Hervé (Carlos Saldaña), who lands laughs by the howlful, sometimes simply with a word.

Once back in the hood, Undine meets up with her fam after 14 years away. Her Mother (a sternly maternal Roz White) is preoccupied with word-search puzzles. Her Father (a warmly august William Newman, Jr.) is obsessed with the lottery. Her Grandma (a feisty Aakhu TuahNera Freeman) mostly zones out. And her brother Flow (a manic and magnetic Kevin E. Thorne II) has a couple poet-manqué monologues that bring down the house.

Aakhu TuahNera Freeman (Grandma), Kevin E. Thorne II (Flow), Felicia Curry (Undine), Roz White (Mother), and William Newman, Jr. (Father) in ‘Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

 

All but Curry double or triple in other parts in a swift succession of scenes that to describe would take away surprise. Suffice it to say, the play touches on such hardships as addiction, incarceration, unwanted pregnancy, and a messed-up social services system. (“I don’t belong here!” Undine laments.) Nottage’s storytelling craft—always with a light touch and laughter about the for-real—makes the improbable perfectly plausible and is uncannily compelling.

One scene in particular, though, merits mention because it inspired Director Eric Ruffin to conceive a brilliantly illuminating production concept for the play.

Not long after Undine becomes poor, she visits a Yoruba priest (Newman, in white robe), whom she consults about her bad fortune. From that brief encounter, Ruffin has imagined an entire African-themed framing for the story that includes transitional episodes when the Ensemble encircle the stage in enchanting rituals, rhythmically clapping and sounding handheld percussion instruments. (Rashida Bumbray was movement consultant; Christylez Bacon was rhythm/musical consultant.)

William T. Newman, Jr. (Yoruba priest) and Felicia Curry (Undine) surrounded by Ensemble in ‘Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

The set by Andrew Cohen carries out the concept in upstage panels with stunning African-inspired faces painted in vivid blues, greens, and red. John D. Alexander’s lighting design intermittently casts a fractured pattern like lost memory. Sounds by Cresent R. Haynes sometimes seem from far away shores. The costumes by Moyenda Kulemeka deftly define the supporting characters’ various everyday looks—but the way Kulemeka cross-references Undine’s pricey white office wear and the ensemble’s white tribal wear is utterly amazing. It’s as if Ruffin has unlocked an ancestral echo in the play that in conventional comedy staging would not be heard.

On one hand, Fabulation is a cautionary tale about a female striver who leaned in so far she lost her balance. On another, the Mosaic production is a ceremonial reconnect with family roots. But the wonder of all is that Fabulation is fabulously funny. Just go.

Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes, including one intermission.

Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine plays through September 22, 2019, at Mosaic Theater Company of DC performing at the Lang Theatre in the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, or purchase them online.

Enron

Back in 1998, the official Enron vision and values statement had a line in it that said: “Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong here.” Two years later, as the company’s stock skyrocketed based on shady accounting practices, that line was silently excised. No surprise. Among the rich white men in the upper echelons of Enron, ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance had become so normalized it was company culture. By 2001, Enron went bust—the biggest scandal in U.S. capitalism to date—and tens of thousands lost jobs, medical coverage, and life savings. Meanwhile, the pale male poobahs pulled bonuses of millions.

Nick Torres (Ken Lay), Andrew Scott Zimmer (Jeff Skilling), Amanda Forstrom (Claudia Roe), and Charlie Cook (Andy Fastow) in promotional photo for ‘Enron’ at 4615 Theatre Company.

If you think that true-life financial collapse sounds like the makings of a wonky documentary not terrific theater, you’ll think again after seeing 4615 Theatre Company’s rollicking and revealing production of Lucy Prebble’s 2009 play Enron. Prebble is British, and Enron was a huge hit in London. It flopped on Broadway, however. Some say it was because Americans weren’t ready for it. Some say the show was slain by Ben Brantley, who called it “a flashy and labored economics lesson.” Proving both mass think and Brantley dead wrong, the intrepid 4615 troupe has staged what looks today more like the most significant tragicomedy of our time.

In this post–Citizens United era when corporations get to be treated like peeps, it makes perfect sense to regard a corporation as a tragic hero, a character whose pride, just like in Sophoclean times, goeth before a horrific fall.

Hubris, thy name is Enron.

The capitalist character that is Enron is a composite of individually named co-conspirators whose combined flaws seal the vaunted hero’s fate. And here the 4615 production shines because Enron’s four main characters become the compelling human faces on a tragic arc of propulsive suspense.

Amanda Forstrom as Claudia Roe and Andrew Scott Zimmer as Jeff Skilling in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Jeff Skilling (a driven Andrew Scott Zimmer) is the brains of the operation, the smartest guy in the room, the one who comes up with the big ideas that dupe investors and make billions. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a doting father. His views are Darwinian. He believes in his innocence to the end. He also in an early scene has a quickie in the boardroom with the woman who is his rival for the company presidency.

Her name is Claudia Roe (a cool Amanda Forstrom), an ambitious exec who plays hardball by boys’ rules—except she’s got a grasp on reality that Jeff doesn’t. There’s an electrifying scene between them when they clash over moneymaking ideas that are concrete and material, like actual power plants (Claudia’s position), or high-concept and virtual, like with energy traded as a chimerical commodity (Jeff’s brainstorm). Their boss Ken Lay the CEO sides with Jeff. Like, why pick a woman over a guy?

Ken Lay (a mild-mannered Nick Torres) founded the company and runs it like a beloved uncle who happens to be greedy AF. He’s a mediagenic proponent of Enron’s prospects, he woos and wins over market analysts who hype its stock, and he signs off on all Jeff’s moneymaking schemes—including the fatal one exploiting deregulated electricity that led to rolling power outages in California and ultimately Enron’s downfall.

Andrew Scott Zimmer as Jeff Skilling and Charlie Cook as Andy Fastow in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The fourth main character is Andy Fastow (a nervous and nerdy Charlie Cook), who plays second financial fiddler to Jeff, cooking up shell companies with which to disguise the deep debt that Enron is really in. He so wants Jeff to appreciate him. He so wants to succeed. He so does not want to look bad when the shit hits the fan. He’s kind of the kingpin’s fool, on the fine line between tragic and pathetic.

Rachel Manteuffel, Jon Jon Johnson, Ezra Tozian, and Olivia Haller as Traders in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

As if Enron’s gripping Sophoclean storyline did not skewer corporate greed sufficiently, Prebble tosses in some Aristophanean farce for the make-fun of it. And here the ceaselessly theatrical imagination of Jordan Friend’s direction dazzles.

The real Andy Fastow called his phony firms raptors, and in Prebble’s fanciful rendering they appear literalized as voracious lizards who feed on debt. There’s a trio of them (Jon Jon Johnson, Ezra Tozian, Rachel Manteuffel) wearing cartoon dino heads (Benjamin Weigel did costumes), who circle the action like exotic pets with perilous personalities (Friend and Jonathan Ezra Rubin did movement choreography).

At points the stage fills with insane people-energy as traders in identical rep ties and suspenders shout into headsets, pound on tables, and frantically monitor the upturn/downturn market (Andrew Scott Zimmer did the multimedia design) to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Money” (the witty sound design is Friend’s). There’s even some song and dance. A quartet sings a silly ode to Enron in four-part harmony.

Danielle Gallo as Raptor in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Throughout, the play makes complicated financial concepts seem simple as Sesame Street. Ken Lay explains how GM invented bank financing so that those who couldn’t afford a Ford could have an auto their own (to the accompaniment of “Fanfare for the Common Man”). Andy Fastow explains what hedging means by animatedly acting out an airplane in flight and a rented car. And Jeff Skilling delivers a vivid image of inconceivable wealth when he explains that by counting out a dollar bill a second it would take him 32 years to reach one billion.

Interestingly, Claudia Row (who is Prebble’s invention, based on several Enron women) does not indulge in such edutainment. But she provides the best object lesson of all: She cashes in all her stock options just in time to get the hell out.

Jon Jon Johnson and Ezra Tozian as The Law Firm in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The supporting cast turns in a panoply of standout performances, some satiric (Joshua Simon as Enron’s see-no-swindle accounting firm, with a ventriloquist’s dummy; Jon Jon Johnson and Ezra Tozian as Enron’s blind-to-justice law firm), and several impressively serious (Michael Crowley as a straight-up security guard, Olivia Haller as a just-the-facts news anchor, Rachel Manteuffel as a clear-eyed stock analyst, Erik Harrison as an earnest lawyer, Sue Struve as a concerned congresswoman, Danielle Gallo as Skilling’s worried daughter).

Olivia Haller as Trader in ‘Enron.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The eye-filling, pulse-racing spectacle packs into a playing area with the audience on three sides almost seated in the action. The versatile set features an array of gray tables that get rearranged from scene to scene (including as the Enron trademark E) and an upstage wall has vertical louvered blinds that open and close three portals (scenic design is by Kathryn Kawecki; lighting design, by Jon Medley). The work world of a high-flying corporation is represented in spiffy business attire (costumes, Benjamin Weigel), and physical encounters happen impactfully (intimacy and fight direction, Jonathan Ezra Rubin).

The value of Lucy Prebble’s script is given its due with interest by 4615 Theatre Company. Enron plays as both a hilarious fable and a horrifying cautionary tale—a modern classic worthy of fear and pity, if not fury at the one percent.

As an investment of theatergoing time, Enron is an excellent buy.

Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Enron plays through September 1, 2019, at 4615 Theatre Company performing at the Dance Loft on 14th, 4618 14th Street NW, Washington, DC, in repertory with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. For tickets, go online.

The War Boys

The animus being whipped up against “invaders” at our southern border lends Naomi Wallace’s 1993 The War Boys an unsettling resonance. Written when she was but 26, the play is about three men in their early twenties, freelance vigilantes, who spend their nights scouting for fugitive “beaners” at the Texas-Mexico border. With nervy theatrical flair, The War Boys takes us into the messed-up dynamics of their macho game playing and ostensible friendship. Under the tight and insightful direction of Matt Ripa, Ally Theatre Company’s production is a raw and riveting look at the nexus of manhood, misogyny, and xenophobia.

Robert Pike (George) and Eli Pendry (David) in ‘The War Boys.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Ally recently received the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company for its record of producing (in its words) “theatre designed to engage audiences through acknowledging and confronting systemic oppression in America.” What’s extraordinary about Ally’s choice to give The War Boys its DC-area premiere—and what makes the work so arresting and timely—is that it cracks open for conversation the very lynchpin of oppression: the psychotic conflicts among and between wannabe real men that require resolution in the degradation of others.

The characters are two and a half white men, the “half” being Greg (Jhonny Maldonado), whose father was a sadistic U.S. border patrol agent and whose mother was Mexican. The leader of this puerile pack is David (Eli Pendry), a Stanford-educated rich kid. The third member is dim, working-class George (Robert Pike), who needs to get home to care for his sick little bro. Each of them has a disturbing story to tell—and retell, as it turns out, for on this night, their Border Brigade deal with the Feds (ten dollars per “wetback”) has them waiting around to report suspects with not much to do but cockfight.

Jhonny Maldonado (Greg) and, behind him, Robert Pike (George) in ‘The War Boys.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

There is a subtle echo of Waiting for Godot here. The stark set by Scenic Designer Emily Lotz is a stretch of sand punctuated not by a cragged tree but by a green sapling (which David is determined to nurture). There’s also the wreck of a 4×4, all framed within a proscenium of chainlink and vertical slats that eerily evokes the wall at the border now.

Lighting Designer Katie McCreary artfully focuses each young man as he reveals to us his backstory. Costume Designer Julie Cray Leong has the boys in knockabout wear, some of which comes off. Sound Designer Niusha Nawab inserts inspired transition tracks, including at one point a church organ and marching feet. And Fight and Intimacy Choreographer Chris Niebling delivers a jolting succession of gut-punch effects.

Eli Pendry (David) in ‘The War Boys.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The acting ensemble is excellent—especially in their characters’ quasi-autobiographical speeches. We can believe they’ve been homeys since high school. We can believe the intimidating dominance they do to one another is part of what bonds them. We can sense there’s hella homoeroticism just beneath. And we can see how essential to these white men’s fellowship is their shared superiority to others.

For Greg, though, it’s not so simple. He refers several times to the fact he’s half WASP, half Mexican, and his divided loyalties trigger an explosive ending that leaves one speechless.

Wallace’s coarse, intense, and crafted writing in The War Boys packs every moment with menace and suspense. Be advised, the soul-baring stories the young men tell solo are brutal and lewd. It is never quite clear what really happened and what’s boy-bond embellishment; but for certain, these young men’s path to manhood was mined with violence and vitriol.

Jhonny Maldonado (Greg), Eli Pendry (David), Robert Pike (George), and Robert Pike (George) in ‘The War Boys.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The War Boys, incredibly, was Wallace’s very first play. How she so credibly captured the combative culture of a men’s zone is a wonder. She went on to a distinguished career as playwright and screenwriter (with her significant other, Bruce McLeod, she scripted the 2009 film The War Boys, based very approximately on this play). Among many awards, she got a MacArthur “genius grant.”

Naomi Wallace is a major American writer who here exposes what MAGA is really about. Ally Theatre has done The War Boys justice. It deserves be seen, and it needs to be discussed.

Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

The War Boys plays through August 31, 2019, at Ally Theatre Company performing at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, MD. Tickets are available online.

Ally Theatre Company has two events coming up at Joe’s Movement Emporium that will help audiences process what they’ve seen in The War Boys.  

Wednesday August 21, 7:00 pm
Community Film Screening: Ay Mariposa
Ally Theatre Company, in conjunction with its current production The War Boys, is pleased to host a Community Screening of Ay Mariposa, a documentary film about two women and a rare community of butterflies standing on the front lines in a battle against the US-Mexico border wall. A short discussion will be held after the film.
$10 suggested donation. Tickets are available here.

Saturday August 24, after the 2:00 pm matinee
Panel Discussion: Made in the USA: How American Culture Breeds a Unique Blend of Racism and Misogyny in Men
Stay after the show for a panel with the cast, director Matt Ripa, and special guests from Men Can Stop Rape and EVRYMAN as we discuss the themes of masculinity in The War Boys and ways in which men can help each other to prevent and stop violence in themselves and their communities.

Blank

“There are holes in the script!” would be the deathblow for any more conventional work of theater, but in Nassim Soleimanpour’s Blank, the gaps are where the action’s at.

As with Soleimanpour’s hugely popular White Rabbit Red Rabbit (presented last year at Theater Alliance), the actor picked to perform Blank is not given the script until the show starts. There are no rehearsals; there’s no director; there’s only a solo performer cold-reading through Soleimanpour’s startling and engagingly crafted “story machine.” Oh, and there’s also the audience, who become on-the-spot collaborators in the storytelling. The script is literally riddled with blanks to be filled in. The result is a mashup of interactive improv, smart party game, and very meta skunkworks.

Theater Alliance is presenting four performances of Blank as part of its third annual Word Becomes Action festival. I caught the first last night, and—notwithstanding my general apprehension about audience participation—I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The four performers of ‘Blank.’  Top row: Sisi Reid (August 8) and Lolita Marie (August 9). Bottom row: Heather Gibson (August 10) and Tiffany Byrd (August 11).Photos courtesy of Theater Alliance.

Sisi Reid as the solo performer was delightful. “I’m starting to like this,” she ad libbed early on, by which time she had us doing so as well. The audience member singled out to be “the character” in our collectively imagined story (Alex Turner) played along gamely and charmingly. The stage was set simply with a whiteboard, pieces of tape affixed at its edges, that in time became the storyboard of a character’s past and future life.

Soleimanpour’s deliberately incomplete script notes that there’s no rehearsal for life. It happens in the moment, moment by moment, an experience Blank evokes with uncanny immediacy. “I don’t own the best stories,” says Soleimanpour,” his words read from the page by the performer. “Any audience member might have a story that a playwright could only dream.” What I witnessed last night during Blank was the emergence of a genuinely communal awareness of our unique presences in the room, each life unfinished, each life worth living. “We’re here to discuss/describe the future,” says Soleimanpour through the performer. And indeed that’s where the piece takes us, to surprisingly moving effect.

Theater Alliance Producing Artistic Director Raymond O. Caldwell and ‘Blank’ Performer Sisi Reid in post-show conversation with the audience August 8, 2019. Photo: DCMTA.

Until the piece took that solemn and affirming turn toward the end, the audience was having more fun than many a scripted comedy offers. Remaining performances feature Lolita Marie (August 9), Heather Gibson (August 10), and Tiffany Byrd (August 11). The show’s built-in unpredictability and spontaneity make it a marvelous mini human comedy and, just like life, a one-chance-only don’t miss.

Running Time: About 80 minutes with no intermission, plus post-show conversation.

Blank plays plays through August 11, 2019, as part of the Word Becomes Action Festival at Theater Alliance performing at Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets at the box office, or go online.

Or,

Liz Duffy Adams’s play Or,—which premiered in 2009 at the Women’s Project in New York—is a deliciously literate feminist farce. A radical mashup of dichotomies (among them straight and gay, male and female), it centers on Aphra Behn, the first woman playwright to earn a living by her pen. Ahistorically and hysterically, it blends Behn’s Restoration-era polyamory with 1960s-style sexual liberation. As such the script could not have been a more promising programming choice for the accomplished female-centric and queer-identified collaborative company Theatre Prometheus.

Peter Mikhail (CharlesII), Dina Soltan (Aphra Behn), and Zoe Walpole (Nell Gwynne) in ‘Or,’ Photo by Patrick Landes.

The set as tucked into the Capital Hill Arts Workshop blackbox looked charming. The play takes place in the parlor and study of Behn’s London flat, and Scenic Designer R. Scott Hengen has styled it prettily with swaths of pastel print fabric draped everywhere and lit votive candles all about. Lighting Designer Andrew Dodge has strung tiny white lights overhead the audience and will in due time brightly heighten peak moments. Lest we think we’re in for a stuffy drawing room drama, there are two period-ish portraits upstage that bear a winking resemblance to Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Two doors on either side of a huge cabinet appear all set for the play’s quick comic entrances, exits, and concealments. And Sound Designer Kaitlyn E.M. Sapp has a delightful preshow playlist of Joni Mitchell et al. emanating from backstage as if from a dressing room.

Peter Mikhail (Charles II) and Dina Soltan (Aphra Behn) in ‘Or,’ Photo by Patrick Landes.

The real Aphra Behn was both a spy for Charles II in Surinam and a playwright for the theater he reopened in London. As imagined by Adams, Aphra (played here by Dina Soltan) hooks up not only with Charles (Peter Mikhail) but also with the famous actress Nell Gwynne (Zoe Walpole) and two other paramours (doubled by Mikhail and Walpole), all the while on deadline to finish a play commissioned by the wealthy Lady Davenant (Mikhail in flamboyant drag). As directed by Chelsea Radigan, the production also features the intermittent singing and ukulele playing of an unnamed Ensemble (Patty Pablo). And Costume Designer Madison Booth has garbed them all in an appealingly colorful hybrid of lords and ladies and the love generation.

The play as written is a perfect storm of erotic passion, artistic fervor, and delectable repartee. It’s got a story line begging for belly laughs. It’s also loaded with fascinating and feisty feminist insights, as I discussed (with quotes from the script) in a column I wrote when Round House Theatre produced Or, two years ago. So, watching the present Theatre Prometheus production, which I found disappointing, I could not help recall how much more rollicking the same play had been at Round House. And it wasn’t because of the budget differential. It was because the direction and performances at Prometheus did not do justice to the play.

Dina Soltan (Aphra Behn) and Zoe Walpole (Nell Gwynne) in ‘Or,’ Photo by Patrick Landes.

The problem began at the beginning, where there’s a long prologue about how “we all embody opposites within.” It’s intended to be delivered by Behn to the audience. Instead Radigan broke the monologue into separate speeches for the four cast members. The result was incoherent, impossible to follow. The lines were a discontinuous, mumbled jumble.  If I—who had recently reread that speech—was lost, what must someone new to the play be thinking?!

The problem continued in subsequent scenes with a similar indifference toward the text. That CHAW blackbox is exceedingly small. It should not be difficult for actors to project and articulate into it such that a playwright’s crisp wit can land and be savored. Alas, even in the second row, my companion and I had trouble hearing and comprehending, and the sort of disengagement set in that is fatal to live theater.

Theater Prometheus has done much, much better, and I fully expect it will again.

Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.

Or, plays through August 17, 2019, at Theatre Prometheus performing at Capital Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the door.

A Love Letter to Dear Evan Hansen

When Dear Evan Hansen debuted at Arena Stage four years ago, I was so moved by the show I wrote it a love letter, republished below. Now a Broadway hit, it returns to DC for a run at Kennedy Center that’s already mostly sold out. The show’s absence has made this heart grow only fonder.

August 3, 2015

Dear Dear Evan Hansen,

I know it might sound odd, but this is a love letter to a musical.

I saw you for the first time in my life last night, and I knew right away I had to write you to tell you it was love at first sight. You moved me, you thrilled me, you out and out wowed me. (Gosh, I hope you will not think me weird for gushing.)

You’re a musical about a lonely and depressed high school senior named Evan Hansen who writes letters to himself to cheer himself up—which is why you’re called Dear Evan Hansen (duh). What happened last night, though, was that you cheered me up. I remember when we finally had to part, I left you where you’re staying at Arena Stage (I assume that’s temporary and you’ll be relocating to Broadway, where I hope we can meet up again, because I really want to stay in touch). As I walked out into the summer night, I found I could not shake the feeling of elation you had given me. So I figured you might understand why I felt compelled to publicly declare my passion for you this way.

The Company of the First North American Tour of ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I haven’t yet read what any of your other admirers may be saying about you. I can only imagine they were similarly smitten. (How could they not be?) But I hope you will take to heart this letter to you, because there’s something really important and personal I want to share with you.

And it’s this, dear Dear Evan Hansen.

Until I met you I had never in my life seen a musical I would call redemptive. I don’t mean redemptive in any divine sense, because you never mentioned faith. I mean in the very human sense of revealing to us a very identifiable inner self that feels so isolated and unworthy it will pretend to be someone else for acceptance. (You nailed it: Everyone’s got Imposter Syndrome. We’ve all been there done that.) And then you showed that self be caught in a Really Big Lie and stricken with recrimination.

Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen in the First North American Tour of ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy

You presented a central character, Evan, whose dramatic character arc is actually a profound trajectory of conscience—who despite his good intentions in deceiving others comes to realize that he has totally, totally screwed up. The deception he committed was so wrong he cannot stand himself. And by that point in the second act when Evan falls apart emotionally in a morass of crushing guilt and remorse (in his song called “Words Fail”), you embody on the stage such a searing image of a self feeling utterly irredeemable that I was stunned into awed silence. You dug a hole for your main character so deep it seemed impossible to climb out of, and you dramatized exactly what being at a moral nadir feels like.

What happens next, though—and what prompted me to write you this letter—is that you found a way for that main character to atone and go on. It was as if a redemptive miracle occurred on stage, except of course there was no divine intervention. There was only the careful, conscientious craft of a brilliant book writer (Steven Levenson) and two equally brilliant composer/lyricists (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). Together they had told a story on stage so original, emotionally identifiable, and redemptive that what’s possible to achieve in a musical got a Big Bang that will ripple through theater history from now on. Plus everyone who attends can come out a healed and happier person.

Thank you, dear Dear Evan Hansen.

Sincerely,

Me

Running Time: TBA

Dear Evan Hansen plays August 6 through September 8, 2019, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Eisenhower Theater — 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. Tickets may be purchased at the box office, by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600, or online.