Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: December, 2019

Step Afrika! Magical Musical Holiday Step Show (2019)

Now in its eighth year, Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show has established itself as the season’s most joyful and lovable family festivity in DC. Exuberant music, adorable humor, and astounding dance combine to tickle kids and thrill adults. The performances are precise. The production under Mfoniso Akpan’s direction is impeccable. The merriment and excitement are nonstop.

And this year, demand was so great the run sold out online before it began.

Parents and little ones take their seats in the Spenger black box on four sides of a playing area that looks like a blue ice rink with big snowflakes fallen upon it and blue and white streamers draped above. On a high platform, Jeeda Bamngton as DJ Nutcracker, dressed like a drum major bear, is dancing to the seasonal tunes he spins. All around are lit trees, and on stage are ten drums.

The “Pa Drum Pa Pum Pum” scene in Step Afrika!’s ‘Magical Musical Holiday Step Show.” Photo by Edward C. Jones.

Yes, there will be percussion. Drumming and stepping and clapping and snapping and stomping and pounding. Because percussion is not only Step Afrika!’s signature sound; it is also the beating heart and driving lifeforce of this locally grown, internationally renowned dance company now celebrating its 25th year.

There’s something about hearing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” over the gleeful laughter of children who are making noise with their hand-colored clackers that for a moment could make a grownup re-believe. It’s that kind of magical winter night.

The first choreographed number, “Nine Steppers Stepping,” features the women in sparkly black sheaths and the men in sharp bowties and black vests—and they kick off the show by knocking it out of the park. Yup, they’ve got a showstopper right at the top.

Matthew Evans in Step Afrika!’s ‘Magical Musical Holiday Step Show.” Photo by Edward C. Jones.

Our host for the evening, wearing a bright red blazer, is Matthew Evans, who wins over the audience with his charismatic charm and consummate timing. He also clowns around with one of several endearing stuffed animal characters in the show, a polar bear named Polo, at which the kids giggle with delight.

In “Pa Drum Pa Pum Pum,” the aforementioned drums get played stunningly and thunderingly. There are supremely inventive show-off solos. At one point the lights dim and the dancers rattle the rafters beating with drumsticks that light up spectacularly in the dark.

After a comic interlude with a green Grinch character, “The March of the Nutcrackers” brings out dancers dressed in red and white like wooden toy soldiers, stepping and marching in formation while thumping their hands against their bodies.

The fairies in “The Arctic Step Challenge” scene in Step Afrika!’s ‘Magical Musical Holiday Step Show.” Photo by Edward C. Jones.

“The Arctic Step Challenge” is a holiday version of a Step Afrika! standard, a dance-off between women (dressed as fairies with sparkly hats) and men (dressed as elves with sparkly shades). One team dances, the other team dances, the referee (now a blue-suited Evans) has the audience vote for its favorite by making all manner of noise; then after a moment’s suspense during which the referee consults Popper the Penguin, he calls the match for the women or for the men.

Response from adults in the audience during this number is voluble. “Okay!” “Alright now!” “Sounding good!” “Oh, yeah!” There’s a fun game at play here and everyone wants in.

Typically the women win a round then the men win a round then a brotherly/sisterly truce/tie is declared in the name of good sportsmanship. Besides conveying a genuine spirit of gender unity, the actual dance moves—astonishing feats of dexterity, strength, agility—demonstrate vividly how equally among the cast members their amazing athleticism and choreographic grace are shared.

The elves in “The Arctic Step Challenge” scene in Step Afrika!’s ‘Magical Musical Holiday Step Show.” Photo by Edward C. Jones.

Next, kids with their grownups are invited onstage for a dance party called “DJ Nutcracker’s Yuletide Step Workshop.” Just as it sounds, this is a chance to learn a dance step by step, in this case The Nutcracker Slide, which features fluttery fingers to “catch flurries from the sky” and knee dips to “dance down the chimney.” The night I saw the show half the house was on the ice and it was hilarious.

MC Evans sings the sentimental “Silver Bells” as dancers perform a lovely number dressed all in white. Emotional closure seems on the way in a finale called “Home for the Holidays,” during which all the dancers reappear with some dressed in costumes from each previous scene. A wireframe Christmas tree is set up; dancers deck it with ornaments; kids come onstage to help. And a mini-orchestra of percussion instruments—tambourines, woodblocks, rattles—rings in the spirit of Christmas as well as any bells.

Step Afrika! knows something important about making live theater happen to people in a way that makes them happy. It’s a joie de vivre that’s visceral. It’s an elation that’s infectious. It’s a virtuousity that awes. It’s an experience that defies explanation unless you’ve been to a Step Afrika! show and felt it.

Here’s a tip: Don’t get left out of a sellout next year. Get your tickets early.

Running Time: About 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show plays through December 22, 2019, at  Step Afrika! performing at The Paul Sprenger TheatreAtlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C.

The run is sold out. To find out if there are cancelations, call the Atlas Box Office at 202-399-7993 ext. 2. 

Note: Step Afrika! invites grownups who bring children to the crafts table in the Atlas lobby 30 minutes before showtime so they can create and decorate musical instruments such as clappers, shakers, and drums to be played during the show.

CAST
Jeeda Barrington, Deatrice Clark, Matthew Evans, Emerald Holman, Conrad Kelly, Misha Michel, Vincent Montgomery, Ronnique Murray, Dustin Praylow, AJah Smith, Valencia Springer, Jordan Spry, NickStewart, Pelham Warner, Robert Warnsley, Ta’Quez Whitted

CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Mfoniso Akpan; Production Manager: Simone Baskerville; Assistant Production Manager: Kyle M. Dill; Stage Manager: Kaycee Tucker; Assistant Stage Managers: Autumn Mitchell & Aitana Garrison; Sound Designer: Chris Lane; Sound Engineer: April Sturdivant; Lighting Designer: Marianne Meadows; Costume Designer: Paris Franceses; Lighting Board Operator: Kiman Mickens; Scenic Painter: Kelly Rowan; Production Assistant: Joe Murchinson; DJ Nutcracker: Jeeda Bamngton

RELATED:
“Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show (2016).” Review by John Stoltenberg.

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce

Flirting hilariously with sacrilege, the artist known as judy puts the imp in impiety.

“Have you seen this before?” I heard an audience member ask his friend just before Holiday Sauce, Taylor Mac’s sold-out alt-holiday extravaganza at The Kennedy Center. “Prepare yourself for lots of rainbows!”

To Taylor Mac’s ardent fan base, the outrageously gifted queer performer and MacArthur “genius” who conceived, wrote, directed, and stars in Holiday Sauce needs no introduction. Last season the drag artist’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music—originally 24 hours long trimmed to two and a half—turned the packed Eisenhower Theater into a non-heteronormative jubilee

On this one-night-only in December, the Opera House stage was bedecked with so much tinsel floor-to-ceiling it felt like a temple to gaud. And indeed throughout all the fabulosity that was to follow, there would run a sly rejoinder to religiosity. “There’s not a war on Christmas,” Taylor declared at one point. “There’s a war on patriarchy as spirituality.” At that the crowd went wild.

Taylor Mac in ‘Holiday Sauce.’ Photo © by Little Fang Photography. (At left: Machine Dazzle.)

Taylor’s gender pronoun is judy, not as an homage to Garland as one might suppose, but in honor of the homosexual men who before Stonewall referred to one another as “Judy” or “Mary” to keep their sexuality surreptitious. As judy explained in an interview with  Metro Weekly, the nonbinary pronoun they is perfectly fine for those who want it—but “I don’t think it’s creative enough.”

In Taylor’s art, the aesthetic is the activism:

I’ve been trying to make art that doesn’t just comment on the world, or doesn’t just wish for the world to be different, but actually manifests the world that you want to live in through the work.

So it was that a glimpse at the world judy wants to live in came alive in glitz. Centerstage hung a white wreath looking like a giant Life Saver through which tinsel disgorged. A low sound rumbled from an enormous caldron upstage simmering over flickering flames. From inside this kettle arose Taylor looking like a glam Medusa in red and green and glimmer. (Longtime collaborator Machine Dazzle designed the set and judy’s over-the-top costumes. “Taylor lets me do whatever I want,” he told On Tap.)

We were in for a “radical realness fairy sacrifice celebration,” judy told us. The idea was to put all kinds of “shit” into the pot—including “the guts of Donald Trump”—and bring it to a saucy boil so as to “unearth original pagan elements” of the winter solstice festival that early Christians appropriated and made into Christmas. The audience was definitely on board with that.

To the accompaniment of the terrifically talented and diverse band and backup singers (conducted by Music Director and Arranger Matt Ray on piano), the show began on an unexpectedly dark note as judy sang a dramatic/operatic rendering of The Velvet Underground’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song—whimsically juxtaposed, however, with the cheery “Carol of the Bells.”

Taylor explained that this “queer holiday show” was actually conceived as a tribute to Mother Flawless Sabrina, the beloved drag mother, now deceased, who was judy’s mentor and whose photograph descends upstage, as if overseeing all. “You have to commit to the universe,” judy quoted her, “before the universe will commit to you.”

Taylor Mac in ‘Holiday Sauce.’ Photo © by Little Fang Photography.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” brought “tidings of comfort and joy” in the form of “Baby Jesus” in a manger—played here by the bare-chested Neo-Boylesque performance artist James Tigger! Ferguson, lolling luridly on a bed of straw. The tickled crowd was all in for what was fast becoming a wild hybrid of sacred and profane.

Taylor’s patter between musical numbers was as outré as the songs. For instance, judy informed us that at the time Christians observe as the approximate birth date of Jesus, there were actually many religious figures whose miraculous resurrections appear in similar stories in a host of ancient cultures. (This I remembered from my seminary days.) “Jesus,” judy joked, is “a cover version of born-again saviors.”

Then later, dead serious: “So many people have died in the name of Christ that I can’t believe it all.”

To provide “equal opportunity to be critical of one’s culture,” judy invited to the stage out NPR radio personality Ari Shapiro, who wore a sharp maroon blazer in marked contrast to what judy had on. The lights abruptly got all blue and gold (Lighting Designer John Torres made much such magic), and Shapiro sang a disarming Hanukah song, “Feast of Lights” by the band They Might Be Giants:

…The only thing we have is fights,
But there’s got to be a change tonight.
Please be nice on this feast of lights.

Taylor Mac in ‘Holiday Sauce.’ Photo © by Little Fang Photography.

Flirting hilariously with sacrilege, Taylor next led the audience in a singalong to “O’ Holy Night”—except with “substitution skills” so we could swap in “queer meanings” for the lyrics. (At this point you might want to stop reading if you are feeling your sacred cows need to be let out.) The word holy, judy demonstrated, should be accompanied by a gesture of rhythmically poking the stiff pinched fingers of one hand into an orifice formed by the other. The line Fall on your knees should be enacted as genuflection for oral action. And the word divine should be done with a nelly inflection and swish of a limp wrist. As a full-throated chorus of voices filled this unsanctimonious sanctum, the audience, it is fair to say, were in liberation heaven.

There were also some gorgeous interludes of Christmas music played straight. Vocalist Steffanie Christi’an, for instance, sang a moving medley of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace On Earth.” Later Thornetta Davis—”queen of Detroit blues”—sang a stunning “Do You Hear What I Hear,” while Taylor ceded centerstage and joined the backup singers.

Then it came time again for high camp, and Machine Dazzle entered down the aisle dressed as 9-foot-tall Christmas tree. Meanwhile the photo of Mother Flawless Sabrina got draped in descending garlands of more sparkle. Amazement piled upon amazement at what would happen next.

Glenn Marla as “Sexual Consent Santa Clause” and Taylor Mac in ‘Holiday Sauce.’ Photo © by Little Fang Photography.

On risers upstage was NEWorks Voices of America, introduced as “an elder choir,” in red and green holiday wear. They sang a rousing version of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” then judy explicated the lyrics, which it turns out are predatorial. This segued into an extraordinary #MeToo segment, a public service workshop featuring “Sexual Consent Santa Claus” played by the nonbinary, body-liberationist theater artist Glenn Marla. The moment was mindblowing. (And after the show those who wished could line up in the lobby to have a photo taken with them.)

Perhaps as counterprogramming (I’m not sure), Tigger! returned with a number set to  “Dazzle” and did a striptease down to a net sack on his junk, after which he invited audience members to lift him aloft so he could fly near nudely up the aisle.

A sign outside had said no one under 21 was permitted to participate in the show, and it further became clear why when audience members invited to the stage were handed shots of Jameson and Bushmills. This precipitated another singalong, The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” (“It was Christmas Eve babe / in the drunk tank…”).

Steffanie Christi’an returned and sang a lovely “Grandma’s Hands” by Bill Withers (“Grandma’s hands / Picked me up each time I fell”). Taylor then joined in with a rendition of “Christmas With Grandma” by the Christian group Legacy Five into which was interpolated graphic imagery, which sounded like it could have been personal, of child abuse by elders at Christmastime. The onstage choir, Taylor explained, was there “to represent our chosen grandmas and grandpas,” a reminder of a redemption that for judy meant Mother Flawless Sabrina.

Taylor Mac in ‘Holiday Sauce.’ Photo © by Little Fang Photography.

As the band played a jazz rendition of Silent Night, and as spotlights shone in turn on instrumentalists to audience applause, cutout clouds and moon descended. The mood was shifting from satire and snark to something else. It was Taylor’s final solo sung while playing ukelele: “How Can I Keep from Singing?” by the American contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin.

I can sing ’cause You pick me up
Sing ’cause You’re there
I can sing ’cause You hear me, Lord
When I call to You in prayer

The simplicity, sentiment, and sincerity came as a touching surprise.

Credits

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce
Conceived, written, performed, and directed by Taylor Mac

Music Director & Arranger: Matt Ray; Set & Costume Designer Machine Dazzle; Co-Director: Niegel Smith; Lighting Designer: John Torres; Sound Designer: Jimin Brelsford; Executive Producer: Linda Brumbach; Associate Producer: Alisa E. Regas

Co-Produced and Commissioned by Pomegranate Arts and Nature’s Darlings

Featuring
Taylor Mac, Vocals; Matt Ray, Piano and Vocals; Machine Dazzle, Performer
with
Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks, Drums; Steffanie Christi’an, Vocals; Thornetta Davis, Vocals; Viva DeConcini, Guitar; Antoine Drye, Trumpet; Greg Glassman, Trumpet; Walter Hawkes, Trombone; Marika Hughes, Cello; Dana Lyn, Violin; Gary Wang, Bass
with Special Guests NEWorks Voices of America, Nolan Williams, Jr., Music Director; James Tigger! Ferguson; Glenn Marla
and
Ari Shapiro

Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce played December 12, 2020, presented by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Pomegranate Arts at The Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC.

READ John Stoltenberg’s review, “Taylor Mac’s ‘A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged)’ at The Kennedy Center”

Isabella Star LaBlanc, who plays Tiger Lily in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy,’ on why Native stories matter

…And how her personal influence on the role made for one of the most powerful moments in the play

When Playwright Lauren Gunderson took on the challenge of adapting J. M. Barrie’s 1904 Peter Pan, she knew she had to fix what she has called the “deeply harmful misrepresentation of Indigenous people in Tiger Lily and her family.” In her version now playing at Shakespeare Theatre Company (retitled Peter Pan and Wendy and directed by Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul), the character of Tiger Lily has been completely reconceived. No more the helpless princess in distress, Tiger Lily is now a spirited and fearless Native rights activist whose people thrived in Neverland long before Captain Hook’s pirate ship dropped anchor and Peter showed up with the Lost Boys.

Gunderson, who is white, has acknowledged she could not have righted the wrong in Tiger Lily’s character on her own. She recently posted on Facebook:

To honor the Indigenous women and men who have inspired and advised me while creating our strong, funny, heart-full Tiger Lily (especially Isabella LaBlanc who originates the role and is breathtaking) I will be donating 25% of my royalties on this and all future productions to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center[, which is] dedicated to restoring the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children.

Isabella Star LaBlanc is a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota stage and screen actor based in Minneapolis (her bio is below), and her performance as Tiger Lily is radiant (as I wrote in my review). What I did not know till I talked with her was how the deeply personal influence she had on the role made for one of the most powerful moments in the play.

Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily in ‘Peter and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

John: I’d like to begin by talking about your acting background and activism. You’ve said that the lack of Native representation in film and theater is part of your motivation to be an actor. 

Isabella: Definitely. I come from a family of activists and really a community of activists. I’ve grown up around people on the front lines, and I know that I’ve been able to live the life that I live as a proud Indigenous person because of activists that have come before me and that raised me.

But in so many ways that kind of frontline activism has never been where I found myself. I’ve always found my activism through my art and through  acting. I come from a community where we’re so often ignored and so often left out of the conversation. So to be able to stand on stages and to demand to be seen and heard feels like my most powerful tool.

When I started acting, I don’t think I’d ever seen a Native person on stage, much less heard a Native story on stage. To be part of a larger collective movement of Native theater artists who are working toward making sure that more Native people can see themselves in the stories we’re telling, and non-Native  people can learn about our existence, feels exciting and feels important to me. That’s why this has become my work.

In the national CBS Drama Diversity Casting Initiative, you were one of 12 actors chosen out of more than 10,000 submissions and 450 callbacks. What has that meant for you? 

It was my first year out of high school, I was 19. and it was one of those opportunities that you never in a million years expect is going to happen. It started with submitting a tape online and then I had a callback in Chicago and then ultimately went to L.A. It was the first time I’d ever traveled for work.

It was a lot of firsts for me. It was an incredible learning experience. I got connected with my manager out there. I learned about auditioning and things like what you want from an L.A. headshot. But what really stuck with me was that it taught me this work was possible for me—I don’t think I had quite let myself believe that yet.

When you grow up as a Native kid, you don’t get to see many examples of what it means for a Native person to be an actor or what that path looks like or means, so I don’t think I’d let myself dream too much yet. That experience planted the seed in me that I am allowed to be in these rooms and I have a voice that people want to hear or will ask to hear. Before that experience, I would have never dreamed of being at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and working with the people I’m working with now.

Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily in ‘Peter and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

About that same time, you wrote and recorded a deeply moving personal essay called “Proposed Adjustments to American History Curriculum” in which you said in part,

I already knew I was history incarnated, treaties and massacres made flesh. I knew that being Indigenous in America means carrying history no one else wants to hold. 

How did you come to write that?

That piece came out of my experience having been out of school for some time but still finding myself feeling a lot of the same outsiderness in many rooms that I walked into, and realizing that I needed to grapple with some things that I experienced in high school. As a Native student, I really struggled in American history class. I grew up knowing that history is who I am, it’s been passed down to me through my family and the people around me, and I carry it with me every day. So to go into a class that should and could be about how tangible history is, but instead have it feel like the opposite, was painful. It felt like an intellectualization of what makes us us and what makes us a nation. It felt like removing anything personal and anything meaningful and making it instead about names and dates and debates, and I was like, Where is the space for me as a Native person to talk about where I come from? When do I get to unpack the stories I hold in me?

I wrote the piece in collaboration with the Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, which is a really amazing theater company started by Lou Bellamy and is now run by his daughter, Sarah Bellamy. They are the foremost African American theater company in the country, and they also have a really incredible education program that goes into schools doing race and equity workshops.

[The full text of Isabella’s 600-word “Proposed Adjustments to American History Curriculum” is here; her four-minute recording of it is here. I highly recommend it. —J.S.]

Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily in ‘Peter and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Do you remember your first exposure to the Peter Pan story, and do you remember who Tiger Lily was to you then?

I don’t remember ever reading the book or seeing the movie, but Tiger Lily and Native representation in Peter Pan has always been this omnipresent thing I feel like I’ve always known it. And I think as a Native kid I never was drawn to this story because I knew how unfairly and untruthfully it represented me. For as long as I remember, Tiger Lily has been a sore subject.

Who is Tiger Lily to you now in Peter Pan and Wendy

That’s a lovely question. And Tiger Lily is so profoundly different in Lauren’s version that it is hard to remember what she used to be. I feel really lucky that I’ve gotten to discover her in a new way. I see in her so much of the women I’ve grown up around—Native women who are profoundly strong and fierce and funny and passionate. To me Tiger Lily is an amalgamation of generations of very wonderful, powerful Native women.

As the story opens, Peter has been flying off to London to hear stories from Wendy that he can bring back to Neverland to tell to the Lost Boys. There’s a scene about that in the second act that I found just stunning. It’s when Tiger Lily says to him:

TIGER LILY: There were dreamers here before you, Peter. I thought you knew that, I thought you were fighting for us. But you don’t care. You’ve never cared! You fly off every night for more stories, but have you ever asked for mine? My people have generations of stories, and you never once thought to ask.

Justin Mark as Peter Pan and Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Would you talk about that speech and how it came to be and how it feels to say it? 

You’re spot on. That’s my favorite line in the whole show. And getting to say that speech every night on that stage feels like such a gift.

That speech was a very late inclusion in the script, and it came in the rehearsal process because that was a scene I really struggled with at first. There was something that wasn’t feeling right about it. I went to my stage manager, Joe [Joseph Smelser], and I said, Hey, can I chat about this with Alan and Lauren when we get the chance? And he said, Absolutely. And Alan and Lauren were both totally game to listen.

In the original version of this scene in the sea cove between Tiger Lily and Peter Peter, Tiger Lily is trying to make Peter have this come-to-Jesus moment. And what I was struggling with was that I didn’t feel there was enough in the text about what Tiger Lily is fighting for, what Tiger Lily really comes from. When I think about myself as a Native person and my experiences as a Native person, it’s always about who and what I come from. I know that I come from an incredibly rich culture and people, and the hardest part of living in a country that hasn’t respected them is feeling like I don’t get to have space to honor them.

I felt that was the crux of what Tiger Lily was struggling with: She wanted Peter to see that she comes from people that she loves and she comes from a culture that she loves, and that’s what she’s fighting for—while he’s just fighting. There’s this heartbreak in realizing that someone you think is your friend hasn’t quite gotten the opportunity to fully understand you yet. And I felt like that scene was much less about anger at Peter and it was much more about hurt.

Stories were something that came up in that conversation with Lauren and with Alan, this idea that there’s a throughline in the show about there not being stories in Neverland, and so I told Alan and Lauren a lot of what I just told you. As a Native person my whole life I’ve been saying, Why aren’t we telling the stories that I’ve grown up with? Why aren’t other people asking for these stories when I know we have them?

It’s just a brilliant moment in the play, so thank you for raising that. It had to have been an aha moment because it plays that way. 

That story does feel central, and I’m so appreciative that it reads. I did feel an immense responsibility to this story, and I so appreciate that Lauren made the space and really had a willingness to listen and collaborate in a way that I know is very special. And I do appreciate that because of those conversations, I get to say that line now.

Looking at the big picture of Native representation in theater, what do you believe needs to happen and why does it matter?  

I’m very excited about what’s happening with Native theater right now. I think we could be on the cusp of Native theater renaissance. I think about the work Larissa FastHorse is doing and her The Thanksgiving Play being everywhere, Mary Kathryn Nagle and her show Sovereignty. OSF [Oregon Shakespeare Festival] has been producing a lot of Native stuff. There are a lot of really wonderful Native theater artists being produced in really cool places right now. And that’s because of decades of work from Native artists; that’s built upon generations of people demanding that our stories are heard. What’s happening right now, or what should happen, is there’s this new understanding that Native theater and Native stories can and should be universal.

Joriah Kwame as Lost Boy Slightly and Isabella Star LaBlanc as Tiger Lily in ‘Peter and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

What do you wish playwrights, artistic directors, and casting directors knew and understood?

For so long the uphill battle has been convincing theaters and theater makers that Native stories can be marketable, that there are audiences for them, because as much as we don’t like to admit it, theater is a business. And building a season and commissioning work is all about, Okay, what’s going to fill a house? What’s going to sell tickets? For a long time, there was this myth that Native stories wouldn’t do that, that there wasn’t enough interest, that there weren’t enough artists to even tell them. But we’re seeing more and more that that’s not true.

August Wilson built a career telling the stories of pain and power in the African American community, and his work was not only met with interest from American theater audiences but they were enamored by it. We’re learning more and more as a theater community in America that our nation is built on Black and Brown stories. As long as we’re a nation and as long as we’re still grappling with our past and with our future, we have to tell these stories, and I think people are ready to hear them and listen to them. So I’m excited and hopeful about a new era where we get to let go of these ideas about what’s producible and what’s not.

What advice would you give to a young Native actor starting out? 

What I’ve found most powerful and most useful is not allowing myself to feel like an outsider—reminding myself that I’m allowed to be in these rooms, that I should be in these rooms, and by being in these rooms, I’m able to bring different stories. That’s what theater is about. As theater makers, we’re all asked to bring ourselves and our stories into this work. Coming from an underrepresented community this work gives me a platform to share underrepresented stories, to be a new voice in a room. That’s allowed me to feel a little more agency and a little bit more space for myself in this work. Often it can feel a little alienating to be the only person that looks like you or has come from where you come from in a room. But if you allow that to be your gift to the people around you, it makes it much more exciting.

I have one last question. It goes beyond theater and it’s about the current political situation in America, but it’s a question that Peter Pan and Wendy speaks to:  

When you—whose people were on this land first—watch what this administration is doing to immigrants and other people of color who now live here, what do you wish you could say?

Oh, I love that question. And I think you’re so right that that’s what the show speaks to. Lauren’s script really is at its heart about reconciliation. It’s about asking us to reflect on our effect on the people around us and how we live our lives and how it affects how other people can live their lives.

I wish we had more appreciation for the fact that as humans we need each other. I come from a tribal people, and we’re taught that everyone contributes to a community, everyone brings something to the table, and everyone has something to offer. I wish that we would take better care of each other, and that we had a better appreciation for the fact that we’re all better off when we’re more concerned with collective instead of individual well-being.

Isabella Star LaBlanc

Isabella Star LaBlanc is a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota actress, writer, and storyteller. Originally from Minnesota, Isabella has been seen at the Children’s Theatre Company (Peter Pan); The Jungle Theater (The Wolves, Little Women); Minnesota History Theater (Tales Along the Minnesota Trail); and Mixed Blood Theatre (Autonomy). Outside of Minnesota, Isabella has worked in Portland, Los Angeles, Cincinnati (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company) Syracuse (Syracuse Stage), and now Washington, DC (The Shakespeare Theatre Company). On screen, Isabella was recently seen in Missy Whiteman’s Coyote Way: Going Back Home courtesy of the Sundance Native Film Lab. In December of 2016, she was one of twelve selected from 10,000 applicants for the Inaugural CBS Drama Diversity Casting Initiative.

Isabella’s work as a writer has been performed at the Penumbra Theater Company, Pangea World Theater, and The Guthrie (Water Is Sacred, Stories from the Drum). Her script “Writing a War Novel” was a finalist for the 2017 Yale Young Native Storytellers Festival. Her piece “Proposed Adjustments to American History Curriculum” was featured in The Minnesota Women’s Press, August 2018 issue.

Peter Pan and Wendy plays through January 12, 2020, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sydney Harman Hall – 610 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122 or go online.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes. including one 15-minute intermission.

READ “‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ at Shakespeare wows with wonder in a woke dream.” Review by John Stoltenberg.

READ “Playwright Lauren Gunderson had one stipulation when reworking ‘Peter Pan.’ The sexism and racism had to go.” Interview by Nicole Hertvik.

Eureka Day

At Mosaic’s ‘Eureka Day,’ a class in laughs and spats is in session

The five adults seated onstage in a children’s classroom each have a kid enrolled in this  private day school, which like the play we’re watching is named Eureka Day. These earnest parents are all trying to be super-conciliatory toward one another, as though childish conflicts are impolitic and amicable consensus is perfectly possible. Except beneath their sunny California smarm seethes a seriously divisive controversy. It’s about whether students should be required to be vaccinated, and it could rip the school apart. So the grownups in the room try to make nice. They keep replying to one another with waffly responses like “yes/no,” “no/right,” “yeah/no but”—as if to blunt any umbrage that might result from snarky contradiction. Meanwhile microaggressions abound.

It’s a setup for hilarity and conflict and skewering progressive pretensions, and Jonathan Spector’s knife-edge-funny Eureka Day cuts to the quick.

Erica Chamblee, Lise Bruneau, Sam Lunay, Elan Zafir, and Regina Aquino in ‘Eureka Day.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

Managing Director and Producer Serge Seiden directs the quippy Eureka Day at a nifty clip. The production comes hard on the heels of another Mosaic Theater Company show set in an educational environment, the college-level Theory by Norman Yeung, which was about online trash-talk. The programming connection between the two plays is more than scene deep. Thematically—this being what Mosaic calls its #WokeSeason—both plays expose pieties that progressives presume at our peril. Both frame very intense arguments that are happening in the real world. In each, the politics of pedagogy are (to go all academese) interrogated (ahem). Even the two sets (designed consecutively and similarly by Daniel Ettinger and Andrew Cohen) have been graded on the same curves.

An emphasis on education has always been implicit in Mosaic’s brand and its mission to make intercultural and socially relevant art. The company’s website features this quote from Augusto Boal, the Brazilian hero to radical theater practitioners:

Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.

Regina Aquino and Erica Chamblee in ‘Eureka Day.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

I too believe that theater is transformational knowledge. It can be an ongoing lesson about one’s world and a lens into oneself as essential as any information medium and as illuminating as any classroom or therapy session. In my view, theater belongs in everyone’s lifelong learning. But even I, an avid theatergoer, know that it would be terrible marketing to say, “See this play and learn stuff you don’t know about [topic XYZ]! Come see this show and understand yourself!” If a show sounds like it’s going to get preachy or teachy, I’ll pass, thankyouverymuch.

So how does Mosaic do it? How does Mosaic manage to be both hilariously entertaining and edifying at the same time? The paired education-centered storytelling in Theory and Eureka Day made me curious to find out.

“This season we’re talking about stages of awakening,” Mosaic’s Associate Artistic Director Victoria Murray Baatin told me. (She directed Theory and heads up the company’s Education and Outreach Initiative.) “There’s a connective thread through all the plays about things that are urgent and exhilarating, things that are happening in real life.

Sam Lunay and Lise Bruneau in ‘Eureka Day.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

“We wanted to query and question the ways people think they have a certain level of consciousness, where that breaks down, and how it’s a process that’s continually evolving. We want people to not pat themselves on the back or be self-congratulatory with these stages of awakening, but continue to move forward and grow in their understanding.”

That self-conscious squirm definitely happened in Theory, which challenged the limits of liberals’ love for free speech, and it happens again in Eureka Day, which confronts the health price kids pay when liberal parents go their own way.

In his insightful review of Eureka Day, my colleague Bob Ashby posed two knotty questions:

How do we maintain respectful relationships with people with whom we fundamentally disagree? And ultimately, how do we resolve an issue on which there is intractable disagreement?

Here’s how Baatin untangled those questions:

“Theater as a tool allows us to have that cerebral intellectual space that we’re working through, but it also pierces the heart. So if you’re able to feel something in a specific play, and empathize with another point of view as a result of having that effect of penetrating your heart, then disagreement becomes less intractable.

“In Eureka Day, for example, characters don’t ultimately find an ability to see eye to eye, but once you get past all those microaggressions, there’s a true moment of respect. After all the histrionics, there is a quiet moment when they hear one another. I think that’s what the theater can offer us: a chance to hear one another, even if we can’t fully agree.

“Theater gives us an opportunity to shift perspective so that you can have different entry points and different ways of learning. This social and emotional model of learning is one that we’ve really plugged into.”

Among Mosaic’s education and outreach initiatives are discounted student and senior matinees, which are followed by facilitated talkbacks that often feature intergenerational learning and listening. (“You know Mosaic, we love to talk back,” Baatin noted.) Audiences for these performances typically come from senior centers with which Mosaic has longstanding relationships.

The ‘Eureka Day’ study guide. Click the image to download as a PDF.

Mosaic also participates in the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, where teachers can select artistic opportunities for their students grouped by grade level. Busing is available, and Mosaic offers downloadable study guides that support the DC Public Schools educational curriculum and standards. During the run of Native Son, for instance, English and literature classes came that were reading Richard Wright.

I caught Eureka Day for the second time at one such matinee, and I was struck again by how well made is Spector’s play. As its stakes steadily heighten, audience engagement escalates, and throughout there were audible reactions to the gender- and race-based slights and the character-arc surprises.

I was also struck during the talkback by how intently audience members framed their questions. This happened to be a talkback with the cast moderated by Baatin, and during it one audience member asked the actors whether their characters’ views on vaccination corresponded to their own. As they answered, we learned that all have children themselves—and not necessarily convergent views. It was a remarkable moment of evidence of theater’s power to model how to disagree on a divisive issue and get along with respect.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission

Eureka Day plays through January 5, 2020, presented by Mosaic Theater Company in the Lang Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington DC. For tickets, call (202) 399-7993 ext. 2 or go online.

READ Bob Ashby’s review, “Mosaic Theater’s ‘Eureka Day’ puts immunization in the hot seat”

RELATED: John Stoltenberg’s Magic Time! column, “Mosaic’s brazenly brainy ‘Theory’ is both a treatise and a treat”

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST, including songs played preshow:

Peter Pan and Wendy

J. M. Barrie imagined a lot when he wrote his 1904 play about the boy who wouldn’t grow up, but he could not have imagined how many childhoods have been etched by its enchantment. Now in Peter Pan and Wendy, Lauren Gunderson has looked at the classic tale through a lens that can see what daughters and sons face growing up today.

In the majestically magical production now playing at Shakespeare Theater Company, all the dreamlike wonder remains—the flying and adventures, the fairies and pirates, the canine nanny and crocodile. It is absolutely a show for all ages. Peals of intergenerational laughter greet the performance throughout, and now and then there’s that delighted sound of just the children cracking up. As in the best of Disney, there are simultaneous appreciation channels, one for kids and one for grownups. What Gunderson has done in Peter Pan and Wendy, though, goes Disney one better: she has not shied from what can be known now about patriarchy and colonialism, which under Alan Paul’s inspired direction has resulted in a marvelous amalgam of awesome spectacle and mindful meaning.

In Gunderson’s beguiling retelling, Wendy joins Peter Pan as a co-hero of the story, and later a third hero emerges, Tiger Lily, reconceived as a Native rights activist.

Sinclair Daniel (Wendy), Chauncey Chestnut (Michael), Derek Smith (Mr. Darling). Bailey as Nana, Christopher Flaim (John), and Jenni Barber (Mrs. Darling) in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The fresh feminist spin begins with Wendy (a wonderfully resolute Sinclair Daniel) as an up-and-coming astronomer. Peering out the window at the nighttime sky through her telescope in the gray-on-gray nursery (Jason Sherwood did the applause-worthy scenic design), Wendy espies an odd star (which will turn out to be Tinkerbell en route). Emboldened by Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize for discovering radium, Wendy then explains to her conventional mother, Mrs. Darling (a prim and proper Jenni Barber who will double hilariously as a mean-girl Tinkerbell), why she wants to go to science school instead of to finishing school as her parents insist.

It’s bedtime and Wendy’s two brothers traipse in, John (an enjoyable Christopher Flaim) and Michael (an adorable Chauncey Chestnut). The first hint that Gunderson is about to take on patriarchy’s debilitating effects on boys comes when young John in his nightgown takes a ridiculous stance of “bravado” to impress his stern father, Mr. Darling (an imperious Derek Smith who will become hilariously dastardly as Captain Hook).

The children’s nanny, the pet dog named Nana (an affably affectionate Bailey, trained by William Berloni), shows up to steal some scenes. Mrs. Darling sings the children a lovely lullaby. Mr. and Mrs. Darling go out for the evening, thinking the kids are sound asleep. But who should suddenly enter through the window but Peter Pan, in search of his personal fairy Tinkerbell, a sprightly light flitting about.

Gunderson has given the character of Peter a complexity that the remarkably versatile    Justin Mark reveals as the play proceeds—charmer, trickster, fighter, cad, then ultimately an ally of both Wendy and Tiger Lily. He starts out all boy, intent on having fun, focused on finding his lost shadow, which here is a tipoff to what will emerge as his self-centeredness—about which he will be challenged by both Wendy and Tiger Lily. For now, Peter and Wendy meet cute. He graciously thanks her for reattaching his shadow—though only after taking all the credit for himself and being called on it by Wendy. In the original Wendy offers to give Peter a kiss. In Gunderson’s rethink, Wendy offers to give him a piece of advice. It’s a funny moment, and it shows Wendy already becoming for Peter a respected role model.

Sinclair Daniel (Wendy) and Justin Mark (Peter Pan) in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The effect when Peter takes Wendy, John, and Michael flying to Neverland is stunning (Paul Rubin choreographed these aerial sequences). The nursery recedes in stars and darkness (Isabella Byrd did the enthralling lighting design), and suddenly we are on an island of Lost Boys and oversize toys. It’s no spoiler to mention that everything after the parents’ departure is the collective dream of three precocious siblings. The surprise is the intriguing way that dramatic fact is carried through in this production. The colorful Neverland set appears first in the nursery in gray miniature. Hook and Tinkerbell are played by the same actors who play the father and mother. The blood-red pirate ship in Act Two is also first seen in the nursery as a gray scale model.

Once in Neverland, we meet Tiger Lily, the stalwart survivor of a proud people who lived there first. In Isabella Star LaBlanc’s radiant performance, Tiger Lily will show herself to be fearlessly brave and fiercely feminist, but for now she is whispering endearments to her pet, an enormous crocodile (a puppet designed by James Ortiz so big it stretches from jaws stage left to tail stage right, with a fearfully cavernous growl by sound designer John Gromada).

Isabella Star Lablanc (Tiger Lily) in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

We are next introduced to the Lost Boys, a ragtag bunch of beach urchins divertingly played by Francisco Gonzalez, Ronen Lewis, Joriah Kwame, Darren Alford, and Tendo Nsubuga. Peter rescued them because they too refused to grow up, and they live underground for safety because a motley crew of dimwitted Pirates (a comic trio of Michael Glenn, Calvin McCullough, Gregory Wooddell) is out to capture Peter so Captain Hook can kill him.

The vengeful Captain as in the original wears a hook where he lost a hand when Peter cut it off and fed it to the croc that also swallowed a clock. Garbed like a high-camp dandy (Loren Shaw did the show’s ceaselessly fanciful costumes), Hook turns out in Gunderson’s witty take to be half of a standup duo with his lackey Smee (played with impeccable comic timing by Tom Story), whose sycophancy scarcely veils his more-than-bromantic feelings for Hook.

Tom Story (Smee) and Derek Smith (Captain Hook) in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Tink is possessive of Peter, can’t tolerate any other girls on the island, and skips no opportunity to sabotage Wendy. In one of Gunderson’s many twists of genius there comes a furious tiff between Wendy and Tinkerbell. Gunderson has Tiger Lily break it up and tell them

TIGER LILY: ALRIGHT THAT’S ENOUGH. Don’t you understand how utterly useless it is for girls to go against girls? The world’s hard enough on us and then you turn on each other? Come on…. You’re both better and smarter than this… You’re only hurting yourself.

Not long after, they’re shouting together “Girl power!”

Jenni Barber (Tinkerbell) in ‘Peter Pan and Wendy.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Gunderson gives Tiger Lily some of the sharpest insights in the play, for instance

HOOK: Neverland is all the dream of a greedy little boy.
PETER: THAT’S NOT TRUE, HOOK.
TIGER LILY: This certainly isn’t the kind of place I would dream up.
[ONE OF THE LOST BOYS]: I would probably go with less pirates and more unicorns.
TIGER LILY: I’d start with less colonial genocide.

And this, after Hook sets fire to the Lost Boys’ underground living quarters:

TIGER LILY: What has Hook ever taken from you?
PETER: He just destroyed our home!
TIGER LILY: Well he destroyed my people. No. This place is built for you, and your fun and that apparently means we all suffer.
PETER: That’s not true! I’m the good guy! He’s the bad! We fight!
TIGER LILY: You’re proving my point, man. My dream would be peace and family and crocodiles, but this? This is all boys and battle and I’m done.

PETER: Tiger, please.
TIGER LILY: This isn’t fun for everyone. You and Hook have taken every inch of this place to fight over and we’re in the middle. We’re the pieces, you’re the players. Is that what’s going on? I’m the sidekick. They’re the ones you get to boss around. And Tinkerbell is obviously here so you don’t have to exist a moment without constant adoration.

In another scene directly from Gunderson’s imagination. Peter and Hook have a confrontation in which a savvy Hook points out how much he and Peter have in common, and how close Peter is to becoming Hook himself. Peter denies this vehemently. But as Gunderson crafts Peter’s fascinatingly layered character arc, he grows into understandings by listening to Wendy and Tiger Lily that change him in extraordinary ways. As much as Wendy and Tiger Lily have been reconceived, it is actually Peter Pan whose character is most transformed.

There is so much incandescent brilliance in this script and this superentertaining production, it makes one wish that all resuscitated classics were even half as smart. And it makes one hope that this will be the version future generations come to know and love and learn from.

CAST
REAL WORLD
Wendy Darling: Sinclair Daniel
Mrs. Darling: Jenni Barber
John Darling: Christopher Flaim
Michael Darling: Chauncey Chestnut
Mr. Darling: Derek Smith
Nana: Bailey

NEVERLAND
Peter Pan: Justin Mark
Tinkerbell: Jenni Barber
Tiger Lily: Isabella Star LaBlanc
Tootles: Francisco Gonzalez
Curly: Ronen Lewis
Slightly: Joriah Kwame*
Twin: Darren Alford
Twin: Tendo Nsubuga

PIRATES
Captain Hook: Derek Smith
Smee: Tom Story
Jukes: Michael Glenn
Noodler: Calvin McCullough
Starkey: Gregory Wooddell
Ensemble: Oliver Archibald, Megan Huynh, Joseph Respicio
Fight Captain: Gregory Wooddell

PRODUCTION CREDITS
A play by J.M. Barrie
Adapted by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Alan Paul

Composer: Jenny Giering
Scenic Designer: Jason Sherwood
Costume Designer: Loren Shaw
Lighting Designer: Isabella Byrd
Sound Designer: John Gromada
Projection Designer: Jared Mezzocchi
Puppet Designer: James Ortiz
Flying Sequences Choreographed by Paul Rubin
Fight Choreographer: David Leong
Choreographer: Katie Spelman
Special Effects: Jeremy Chernick
Animals Trained by William Berloni
New York Casting: Laura Stanczyk, CSA
Resident Casting Director: Carter Wooddell
Dramaturg: Drew Lichtenberg
Voice and Text Coach: Lisa Beley
Assistant Director: Madeleine Smith
Production Stage Manager: Joseph Smelser
Stage Manager: Christopher Michael Borg
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca Shipman

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes. including one 15-minute intermission.

Peter Pan and Wendy plays through January 12, 2020, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sydney Harman Hall – 610 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 547-1122 or go online.

READ “Playwright Lauren Gunderson had one stipulation when reworking ‘Peter Pan.’ The sexism and racism had to go.” Interview by Nicole Hertvik.

READ “Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Simon Godwin on conscience in ‘Everybody’ and himself.” Interview by John Stoltenberg.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

5 reasons Christopher Boone liked ‘Curious Incident’ at Round House better than on Broadway

The 15-year-old author reviews the hit play based on his book.

My name is Christopher Boone and I am 15 and I am brave and I can do anything. I know that because I traveled by train by myself from Swindon to London and I solved the mystery of a neighbor lady’s murdered dog and I found my mother who I thought was dead and I wrote a book.

A man named Mark Haddon published my book under his own name and called it The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I am okay that he did that, just so everyone knows I wrote it.

Harrison Bryan (Christopher) with Christopher’s book in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

My favorite teacher Siobhan made some suggestions but she would tell you I wrote it too. Also I made the drawings.

A man named Simon Stephens made a play out of my book. He told everyone it was based on a book by Mr. Haddon but that was not true. He needed to say it was based on a book by me. Sometimes adults lie. That comes up a lot in my book, especially with Father and Mother. I did not like finding out how much grownups lie because I believed that loving means never lying and I wanted to be loved which meant I did not like being lied to.

I do not tell lies. I can’t tell lies. I don’t know how grownups do it. I think they might have a behavioral problem.

There was a big production made of the play that Mr. Stephens said was his. I went to see it in a big Broadway theater. The stage was inside a big picture frame and there were lots of bright flashing lights and the floor and all the walls were computer screens and there were animated graphics that made me dizzy and distracted and it was hard to pay attention to the characters, even though one of them was Father and one of them was Mother and one of them was Siobhan and one of them was me.

I sat up close but some seats in the theater were so high up and far away I wondered what people in them could possibly see. The play won a lot of awards and a lot of people came to see it. I was okay with that, just so everyone knows it’s about me and my book. I wondered if some people might have thought the play was about computer graphics, though. I could not tell. Everything was enormous, which made the characters seem negligible (which is a word I used in my book once to say how small I felt).

A man named Mr. Stoltenberg took me to see the play at a very much smaller theater with a rounded stage that came right up to the laps of some audience members and no one had to sit very far away at all. Afterward Mr. Stoltenberg asked me if I liked the play better that way and I said yes I did. Then I made a list of reasons why to send to Mr. Stoltenberg as a thank-you for taking me.

Harrison Bryan (Christopher) in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Reason 1. I like to think in pictures. I like to do maths in my head and I’m very good at that and I like to do detecting and think about things logically and I’m very good at that too. But mainly I see what I’m thinking while I am thinking it. I explained that in my book. So l liked it when things my character said or thought appeared projected on a screen like drawings that were as alive as I pictured them to be. It was like the drawings were performing right along with the actor who was pretending to be me. That meant I could see inside my own brain. And when he played Tetris, I could play along.

Reason 2: I say in my book I play computer games but I never said I played Tetris. The people who put on the play made that up. It’s false but it’s not really a lie. And the back wall of the set is made up of boxes like a big Tetris game in three dimensions so it all worked out. The show had a lot of good thinking in pictures like that and it didn’t make me dizzy or distracted.

Tessa Klein (Siobhan) and Harrison Bryan (Christopher) in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Reason 3. The actor who pretended to be me is named Harrison Bryan and he already pretended to be me once before at another theater. I don’t know if he plans to make a career of pretending to be me but if he did he would be very good at it and I would be okay with that just so he doesn’t do identity theft. A lot of what Harrison Bryan says in the play Mr. Stephens took from my book, but he also says some things Mr. Stephens made up, like for instance this: “I don’t like acting because it is pretending that something is real when it is not really real at all so it is like a kind of lie.” In my book I never said that. People laughed when Harrison Bryan said it but I didn’t get the joke. And I was okay with how Harrison Bryan pretended to be me even though he’s not really me because he did so many true things. Like a lot of times when someone said something to him he would make a look with his face and go hmmm or hunh like he was thinking something that he couldn’t say out loud because Mr. Stephens left it out but Harrison Bryan knew it would be on my mind.

Harrison Bryan (Christopher) and Cody Nickell (Father) in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Reason 4: The actors who pretended to be Father and Mother also did many true things and it hurt a lot to watch and remember what happened. Ever since I wrote my book I have not known what to do with that hurt and I could see that Harrison Bryan could not figure that out either. It seems to be a problem that does not lend itself to logic or detecting which made me very sad.

Tonya Beckman (Mother) and Harrison Bryan (Christopher) in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Reason 5: Siobhan. I could not have become me without her. The actor who pretended to be her did so many true things that she made me feel believed in all over again. That made me happy I got to see this version of the show. I wasn’t overwhelmed but I was whelmed. And I know that’s a real word because I looked it up and it means something very good.

Even though in my book I don’t have any friends unless you count Siobhan, which you can’t really do because she is my teacher, if I could I would ask Harrison Bryan if he would be my friend. I like a lot of things about him that I like about me. For instance he seems very good at maths and logic and he is very good to the white rat who pretends to be my pet rat Toby. If Harrison Bryan said yes he would be my friend I would ask him next if he would like to call me Boone Christopher since his own name is backward. He seems like someone who would get that joke.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is playing through December 22, 2019, at the Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets, you may call (240) 528-7822 or go online.

Mr. Ashby wrote up his own reasons why he liked the show and called it A well-conceived ‘Curious Incident’ at Round House Theatre. I did not notice any lies.