The just-completed season of plays at Capital Stage marked something of a transition for the eleven-year old organization. The seven plays that comprised the season were selected by former Producing Artistic Director Jonathan Williams before he departed for St. Petersburg, Florida, where he joined his wife, Stephanie Gularte (the organization’s first Producing Artistic Director) at the American Stage, where she is now the producing artistic director. And actually producing (and in two instances directing) those seven plays was Michael Stevenson, the organization’s third Producing Artistic Director, in his first year at the helm.
So, for that reason, and because the company is one we admire greatly, we thought a review of the season was in order. We’ll take the plays in the order they were produced, with brief summaries of our views of the material and the production.
The season began in September with Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” which was a fitting opening selection for a season entitled, “A Brave New World.” That world, as Ms. Washburn envisions it, is none-too hospitable. Using the characters from the long-running animated TV series, “The Simpsons,” she creates a world in which survivors of an apocalypse brought on by the massive collapse of electric grids are reduced to tribalism in the form of acting troupes. Mr. Stevenson directed the madcap proceedings, and the cast (led by Katie Rubin, John P. Lamb, Elizabeth Holzman, and Jouni Kirjola) delivered an entertaining and disturbing interpretation of the playwright’s vision.
An updated version of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” (adapted by Ms. Gularte) followed in October. Tightly directed by Janis Stevens, the production was professional in every sense, and Ms. Gularte’s script preserved the dramatic tension and social commentary Ibsen most certainly intended. The excellent cast was led by Brittni Barger as Nora, the dutiful housewife, who knows her role in her marriage and accepts it willingly right up until her fateful epiphany, and Ryan Snyder, as her husband. And as the unctuous Nicholas Krogstad, Chad Deverman was nearly perfect, playing the heartless villain until his own heart is warmed and his real passions unleashed.
December brought “The Behavior of Broadus” by the quartet of writers who call themselves the Burglars of Hamm (don’t ask). The play tells the life story of one John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) who is portrayed (some license is taken with his real life bio) as a scientist/psychologist after an attempt at the ministry failed and before he went into advertising. Mr. Watson fathered the school of behaviorism, and the play explores its ramifications in his personal life. Albert Dayan, one of the aforementioned Burglars, directed the play, which featured a large ensemble cast, led by Francis Gercke as Watson. This one was bizarre, even more bizarre than Ms. Washburn’s play, but it was thought-provoking and, at the same time, entertaining.
The best production of the season followed “Broadus” in February. Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information” is a non-linear, non-narrative play consisting of over 50 short scenes loosely divided into seven segments. In the Capital Stage production, skillfully directed by Benjamin T. Ismail with an excellent 11-member ensemble cast, the conceit of the play’s structure was a perfect match for the intimate feel of the theater. Taken together the scenes presented an existential perspective on the current state of the human condition in which intimacy is sacrificed in favor of text messages. If that thought isn’t profound, the presentation of it was, in the end, powerful.
The “rolling world premier” of Steve Yockey’s “Blackberry Winter” came to Cap Stage in March. The play explores the impact of Alzheimer’s disease from a decidedly different perspective: that of the care-giver, not the patient. The Cap Stage production (directed by Mr. Williams) featured a tour-de-force performance by Amy Resnick as the daughter/care-giver, who serves as both an every-person and a unique individual in relating her experience and her feelings over the course of the 90-minute one-act play. The production was also elevated by a remarkable animation design shown on a backscreen that was created, exclusively for Cap Stage, by Dan Lydersen.
May brought yet another gut-wrenching production, this one dealing with interpersonal relationships as they are affected by political and religious beliefs and cultural and ethnic identity. Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013, and the Cap Stage production (directed by Mr. Stevenson) delivered all the power of the script. It hits hard on current issues of significance and harder still on how those issues can plague those who are trying to overcome their own preconditioned identities. The five-member cast was led by Adam El-Sharkawi as a Muslim-American upper middle class attorney who is forced to confront the multiple influences that have made him who he is.
And, finally, after all that heavy drama, the season came to an end last month with Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s “The Totalitarians,” a political farce of the first order that showcased the marvelously talented Jamie Jones as an ego-centric small-time candidate for political office who represents a main chance for her ethically challenged campaign manager (nicely portrayed by Kelley Ogden). Director Peter Mohrmann (with Ms. Gularte and Mr. Williams, one of the company’s co-founders) kept the action hopping with quick shifts of the focus from one scene to the next.
As theatrical seasons go, this one was solid in every respect, while staying true to the organization’s principle purpose. And, in that regard, we are confident that very few, if any, who attended any of the seven productions left the theater feeling entirely comfortable about what they had experienced.
Capital Stage’s twelfth season, entitled “Love and War,” begins on September 3 with Will Snider’s “How to Use a Knife.” Tickets and information for the full season or for individual performances are available online (at capstage.org), by phone (916-995-5464) or at the theater box office (2215 J Street).