Magic Time! OpenStage New Works Showcase

The theater term “packed house” took on all new meaning for me the night I caught this month’s OpenStage New Works Showcase. Not only was there no empty folding chair; the show went on stage in what was literally a private home. To be exact, it was the exposed-brick-walled living room of Kris Swanson and Roy Mustelier, whose remarkable hospitality stems from their equally remarkable commitment to emerging artists.

Star Johnson.
Star Johnson.

Billed as “an ‘open mic’ for theater artists,” OpenStage is curated, produced, and promoted by an impressive impresario named Star Johnson. I’m told the evening was typical—a bill of about a half dozen ten-minute  plays, solo performances, or scenes-from-plays-in-progress,  created by a mix of local playwrights and performed for an eager audience as diverse as the artists. I don’t recall experiencing live theater in this town amid such an unselfconsciously assorted roomful of folks.

The audience was enjoying it, and I too found the evening entertaining and satisfying, with pleasing flashes of fresh talent and surges of one-night-only energy.

Host Brittney Sankofa.
Host Brittney Sankofa.

Here are credits and snapshots from the event (courtesy of OpenStage), which was emceed by Brittney Sankofa.

01 The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet

1) The Tragedy of Mario and Juliet by Wayne Nicolosi
With Jeff Mocho, Rena Brault, Chris Nicolosi, Shirley Panek, Greg Bowen, Brian Binney, Larry Levinson, and Wayne Nicolosi
Scenes from a full-length comedy set in Verona, NJ, about bumbling architect Romeo and handsome contractor Mario who meet their match while building a balcony for local spitfire Juliet.



2) Ya Dig?  (A Prayer to My Sister) by Sisi Reid
With Moriamo Akibu, Makia Green, and Sisi Reid
Literally, lyrically, and metaphorically digging, three women seek self-acceptance  in a world full of hatred of “everything brown” and ultimately discover how to love themselves.


03 I Will Send For You

3) I Will Send For You by Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
With Lyn Artope and Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
A mini-drama, based on the true story  of Saartjie Baartman, in which a South African woman bids a painful good-bye to her sister as she leaves for Europe, where she will be displayed in a human zoo as the Venus Hottentot.


04 Calico

4) Calico by Robert Kittredge
With Cristen Stephansky, Mike Bagwell, Emily Sucher, Ashley Zielinski and Robert Kittredge
A one-act send-up of the iPhone age in which a dumb off-hand remark by a famous actress gets caught by TMZ, goes viral, and threatens to ruin her.


05 Bowie is Dead

5) Bowie Is Dead by Star Johnson.
With Emily Canavan and Kashyap Sridhar
A comedy sketch set in a restaurant, where the server reveals her  bizarre secret.


06 Scar Tissue

6) Scar Tissue by Sherryle Jackson
With Denise Sanchez and Johnnie Leon Hill 
A dramatic excerpt from the author’s novel The Promised Land in which a wife and her minister husband cope with her infertility and the excruciating consequences of past mistakes.


07 Blu's Crisp Bills

7) Blu’s Crisp Bills by Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
With Dior Ashley Brown and Rayona L Young
A dark comedy in which a woman thinking she’s calling a contract killer to do in her husband gets a wrong number, and things don’t go as planned.


 Barbara K. Asare-Bediako

8) Love Letter to My Oppressor written and performed by Barbara K. Asare-Bediako
An eloquent poetic monologue that takes on the state and those whose “freedom is founded on better than me.”


There are many unique sites of surprise in the DC theater landscape. OpenStage New Works Showcase is certainly one of them, and for the adventurous theatergoer, it’s well worth a visit.

Running Time: One hour 30 minutes with no intermission.

The Corner Store

OpenStage New Works Showcase was performed March 4, 2016, at The Corner Store – 900 South Carolina Avenue, SE, in Washington, DC. For more information or news of the next showcase, like the OpenStage Facebook page or email [email protected].

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John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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