Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Arlington Theatrical Treats: WSC Avant Bard & Signature

I hope you can take a few hours out of your busy life and enjoy some local theatre in the musical sense. Fortunately, for us we have three current shows to pick from in Arlington.

These are: The Bacchae by Euripides and The Tooth of Crime by Sam Shepard at the WSC Avant Bard Theatre at the Artisphere in Rosslyn and Xanadu book by Douglas Carter Beane and music & lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar at Signature Theatre in Shirlington, here in Arlington, VA.

If you are not used to classical theatre--the Greeks, that is--no need to worry, as the WSC Avant Bard is just that avant theatrically, and so you will be enthralled by this production and the music. I need to mention Nicholas Rudall who did the translation and Mariano Vales who composed the original music for this production. The music in and of itself is a character and this involves the whole cast as they dance and use the stage as an instrument. Aysha Upchuch had her work cut out for her as the characters move about the fairly simple but narrow stage--all the time keeping the audience engrossed. The vision that Steven Scott Mazzola had for the play not only works but it has me wanting to go back to re-see this once-in-a-lifetime play that I will not forget for some time, if ever. The use of actors as musicians and later as artistic puppets is clever and works visually while keeping to the Greek use of masks.

Also featured at WSC Avant Bard is The Tooth of Crime with music and words by T. Bone Burnett which are awesome. The funky production moves us back to the 1960s to Shepard's earlier works. This poetic/musical bar fight of sorts is directed by Kathleen Akerley.

I have to add here that it took a while to figure out what was happening and the first act moves a bit slowly but please hang on for the second act as you will not be disappointed, both musically and dramatically. Perhaps it helps to know some Spanish that is only hinted at in terms of meaning; for example, "viejo" = "old man" / "brujo" = "witch doctor" / "sangre" = "blood" / "hermano" = "brother" but one can still get the gist of Shepard's intent.

The musical "cock fight," if you will, between Hoss (John Tweel) the main character and Crow (Tom Carman) is truly worth a repeat visit. During this extensive duo Tom Carman soars as not only does he have a great voice but is able to use his body to pull off the rock star charisma and the costumes help exceedingly well. Keep a watch on Carman because I foresee great things from him in the future, not only here but in New York where he has relocated. Watching him brought thoughts of David Bowie, Sting, Prince--yes, that's right of that quality.

So what are you waiting for, call the Artisphere (703.875.1100) and see either play or both.

And not to be outdone, Signature Theatre is currently running Xanadu directed by Matthew Gardiner who also did the choreography, mind you at some times the whole cast is on roller skates. As a theatre goer, you can never go wrong by catching a play at Signature and the staging and set design truly move the audience.

I saw it on opening night of the previews and perhaps the lead singer had allergies but her opening song was a bit flat but fortunately she was able to recover later in the performance. It's a bit hard to sing in the shadows of Olivier Newton John but the energy is there in the cast members. Hopefully, the cast has warmed up and is ready to go. Catch this and go back a bit to Xanadu.

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