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The Next Stage 

Style’s theater critics weigh in on upcoming Richmond theater.

click to enlarge A publicity still from the First North American Tour Company's "Come from Away," a musical running Feb. 1 through Feb. 6 as part of this year's Broadway in Richmond season.

Matthew Murphy

A publicity still from the First North American Tour Company's "Come from Away," a musical running Feb. 1 through Feb. 6 as part of this year's Broadway in Richmond season.

Hello, dear readers! We’re very happy to be back after a brief hiatus. Regarding Style Weekly’s short-lived demise, we’ll paraphrase Mark Twain and say that reports of our death were greatly exaggerated. We’re glad to be back on the theater beat, telling you what’s going on in this fair city of ours.

Without further ado, here’s a recap of the local theater we enjoyed this past year, and what we’re looking forward to in the first half of this new year.

Griset: To be entirely honest, I haven’t seen as much theater in the pandemic as I did pre-pandemic. Claire, what did you see?

Boswell: Well, you missed out on some great shows! We are seeing slightly larger audience sizes these days, with most theaters requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry, but cast sizes remain small, and I feel like that has meant that the shows have all felt especially intimate this past year. Firehouse Theatre’s “Krapp’s Last Tape,” for example, gave us this painful portrayal of a man's private moments near the end of his life, while “Every Brilliant Thing” from The Illuminated Theatre Company, saw Louise Keeton embodying a woman from age 7 to 70 without so much as a costume change; brilliant work on the part of director Julie Fulcher-Davis, who also designed the costume, but also a testament to Keeton’s versatility as an actor. She made the huge space feel tiny, and the vulnerability of scenes in which audience members became scene partners was palpable.

Also the revival of Cadence’s pre-pandemic “Small Mouth Sounds," saw us peering on and taking part in the strange intimacies between strangers on a silent retreat. I loved seeing the show again, with one casting change — Evan Nasteff instead of Adam Valentine, and I thought he was wonderful [giving] us a slightly different, somewhat less hostile version of the character.

The summer 2021 Shakespeare Festival on Agecroft Hall’s lawn felt more laid back than usual, more familiar, like a backyard party with the Bard, and things really ramped up in the fall when more theaters opened their doors. We got a few great musicals with tiny casts, like Virginia Rep’s “Ella and Her Fella, Frank,” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” at Swift Creek Mill. “War in Pieces” a festival of short plays written by veterans, had its world premiere last fall at Firehouse Theatre. I thought it was one of the best shows of the season so far, really showcasing the amazing talent of the ensemble cast, though I’ve got to admit that Irene Kuykendall stood out as the true star of that show.

We also saw so much amazing work about the Black experience, including Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company’s “What They Did for Us,” Richmond Triangle Players’ “This Bitter Earth,” Firehouse’s “Fires in the Mirror,” the Conciliation Lab’s “The Niceties” and Virginia Repertory Theatre’s “Pipeline.”

Looking ahead, Rich, what are you looking forward to in the coming months?

Griset: First off, I’d like to mention that the upcoming season is very much in flux. Already we’ve had at least three shows that have pushed back their openings, with two of them publicly citing pandemic concerns. The two that have been rescheduled for the first half of the year are definitely on my list: Quill Theatre’s “An Iliad” (March 24-April 16) and Cadence Theatre Company’s “Everybody” (June 2-19). The former is a retelling of Homer’s classic epic told by a war weary poet. Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, it seems like exactly the sort of show Quill excels at.

The latter is penned by playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the double Pulitzer finalist whose works “An Octoroon,” “Gloria” and “Appropriate” have electrified Richmond audiences. “Everybody” is an adaptation of the 15th century morality play “Everyman,” where characters include Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses and Understanding. I’m interested to see what Cadence does with it.

I’m also excited about The Conciliation Lab’s production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (April). It’s an August Wilson play about a group of blues musicians at a recording studio in 1920’s Chicago. Considered one of Wilson’s best works, it was recently adapted into a film starring Viola Davis and [the late] Chadwick Boseman.

Claire, what are you looking forward to?

Boswell: I’m looking forward to “A Doll’s House, Part 2” (Feb. 4-27) at Virginia Rep. This is another show I had hoped to see before the pandemic and I’m so excited that I’ll finally get the chance. Swift Creek Mill’s “Murder for Two” (Jan. 29-Feb. 26) sounds like a fun, zany musical whodunit, with just two cast members, a whole host of suspicious characters and a single piano, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. I’m also excited that we will finally get to see the full production of So.Queer Playwriting Festival winner Kari Barclay’s “Stonewallin’” (Feb. 9-March 5) at RTP, with Raja Benz directing.

Griset: I’m also intrigued by “A Single Prayer,” (April/May) a new play at the Firehouse by K. Jenkins. Described as a “lyrical play about trying to find our way in a very confusing universe, the show was originally supposed to premiere in early 2020 but was postponed by the pandemic. The Conciliation Lab is staging Paula Vogel’s disturbing and funny “How I Learned to Drive” (March 4-19). Directed by Chelsea Burke, the Pulitzer-winning play has a woman recount her sexual initiation by her uncle at an early age.

Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel” (Feb. 17-27) at Virginia Commonwealth University also caught my eye. Set in New York City in 1905, the play tells the story of Esther, a Black woman who makes women’s undergarments and longs for a partner. Directed by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, this Theatre VCU show will likely be the ticket for theatergoers in the know.

From out of town, we’ll also have Broadway in Richmond touring productions of “Come From Away” (Feb. 1-6), “The Lion King” (March 9-20) and “My Fair Lady” (May 31-June 5).

Boswell: Well, I think that will do it for us. Until next time, see you in the theater!

Griset: See you in the theater!

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