DCMTA 2018 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Performance in a Professional Production

From dramas in church basements to high-budget musicals, the DMV produced an impressive array of theater in 2018, propelled by skilled, talented artists. Here are some of the performances that made an indelible impression on our writers this year. Did we overlook a favorite of yours? Let us know in a comment!

As the year draws to a close, we asked DCMTA writers to think back on the shows that left an indelible impression on them in 2018. Here are the professional performances that made the biggest impact on DCMTA writers this year. Performers are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Spiritual healer and young man in need of soul washing: Stephanie Berry (Aunt Ester) and Justin Weaks (Citizen Barlow) in ‘Gem of the Ocean.’ Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.
Spiritual healer and young man in need of soul washing: Stephanie Berry (Aunt Ester) and Justin Weaks (Citizen Barlow) in ‘Gem of the Ocean.’ Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.

Stephanie Berry as Aunt Ester and Justin Weaks as Citizen Barlow
‘Gem of the Ocean’ at Round House Theatre
Berry gives an exquisitely gritty performance as Aunt Ester, the ancient and beloved spiritual healer. And Weaks brings a shattering anguish to the role of Citizen, his voice cracking with yearning for redemption and restitution. And during the course of the play, Aunt Ester washes Citizen’s soul so he might be right with himself. She has him visualize a voyage to the City of Bones, a sacred place under the sea built of bones by those who perished on the Middle Passage. And Weaks’s performance in that scene is so wrenching one might well weep along with him. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Iyona Blake as Billie Holiday
‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill’ at Creative Cauldron
Holiday is played by Iyona Blake and, from the moment Blake walks into the light, she embodies the singer. Dressed in blinding white like a tortured ghost, jewels flashing from her ears, neck, and wrist, standing before the microphone with a determined weariness, you look at Blake and the band and the small stage and you’re taken from sleepy Falls Church to 1959 South Philadelphia, one of the last performances Holiday would give before her death months later. Blake’s voice captures the faded resilience of Holiday’s later qualities, (famously heard in the classic album Billie Holiday at Storyville) when her voice would occasionally fail her, but her power and emotion pushed through. – E.A. Aymar
E.A. Aymar’s Review
David Siegel’s Column

Joseph Carlson as Andrew Jackson
‘Sovereignty’ at Arena Stage
Joseph Carlson does a star turn as Andrew Jackson, the morally bankrupt leader, a deal-maker and crook who shrugs off promises and changes his mind whenever it suits his pocket, and his modern-day counterpart, a cop named Ben, who turns out to be as brutal as he is venal. – Ravelle Brickman
Ravelle Brickman’s Review
Molly Smith and Playwright Kathryn Nagle Discuss ‘Sovereignty’ and Why Plays by Native-American Women Are Vital
Gloria Steinem Talks About ‘Sovereignty’ at Arena Stage

Red Concepcion as the Engineer
‘Miss Saigon,’ National Tour, Kennedy Center
Red Concepcion gave an exemplary performance as The Engineer in the national tour of Miss Saigon. The Engineer is an unsavory fellow, a pimp, a petty criminal who functions as a sort of master of ceremonies. As played by Concepcion, The Engineer commands every moment he’s on the vast stage at the Kennedy Center Opera House. He possesses the broad style, the flair and elan, that the material requires. – David Gerson
David Gerson’s Review
David Siegel’s Opinion Piece on ‘Miss Saigon’

Tim Getman and Daniel Corey in True West. Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.
Tim Getman and Daniel Corey in ‘True West.’ Photo by Katie Simmons-Barth.

Daniel Corey as Austin
‘True West,’ by Rep Stage at Howard Community College
Daniel Corey was a revelation as Austin in Sam Shepard’s True West at Rep Stage. Corey imbued the younger brother with the comical timidity of a classic “second banana.” At first, he only fought back against an intimidating older brother with passive-aggressive sarcasm, careful not to go too far. But that just made it all the more fun to watch him later when the worm began to turn. – John Harding
John Harding’s Review

Michael Kevin Darnall as Clausewitz
‘New Guidelines for Peaceful Times’ at Spooky Action Theater
When Michael Kevin Darnall plays a character who is the focus of a long scene and we can watch every nuance and shading of his emotional expression without interruption, he can be transfixing. Here his performance as the Polish émigré Clausewitz is what really drives the emotional momentum of the play. It hooked me and gripped me even beyond the storytelling in the play itself. —John Stoltenberg
David Siegel’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column: Michael Kevin Darnall Opens Up About Being Open Onstage

Claybourne Elder (Giorgio) and Natascia Diaz (Fosca) in Passion at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.
Claybourne Elder (Giorgio) and Natascia Diaz (Fosca) in ‘Passion’ at Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Natascia Diaz as Fosca
‘Passion’ at Signature Theatre
Diaz explores deeply and illuminates the complexity of Fosca’s pain, her longing, her desperation, her relentlessness, her instinctual sense of what love feels like. She takes pains to distance her performance from the common view of Fosca as a crazy, obsessive stalker. Diaz’s singing in the role is impeccable, not only with respect to its technical demands but to the emotion that is essential to her character. – Bob Ashby
Bob Ashby’s Review
Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer Discusses Signature’s Upcoming ‘Passion’ by Geoffrey Melada
David Siegel’s Column

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Bashir
‘The Invisible Hand’ at Olney Theatre Center
Of all the characters in The Invisible Hand, Bashir evolves the most and Ebrahimzadeh’s nuanced portrayal allows us to see subtle changes in his character. Ebrahimzadeh conveys the cunning, angry and intelligent radical Bashir without sacrificing his humanity and even, at times, his compassion. It was not only one of the best performances I saw this year, but one of the best I have ever viewed. – Susan Brall
Susan Brall’s Review

Nabil Elouahabi as Tareq
‘Noura’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company (Women’s Voices Theatre Festival)
Nabil Elouahabi is masterful as Tareq, Noura’s affable husband whose calm exterior covers up a shadowy knot of trauma, fear, and sexism. – Elizabeth Ballou
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review
Sophia Howes’s Column

Kevin Shen (Chiqui), Jon Norman Schneider (Jiorgio), Ariel Felix (Sally), Rafael Sebastian (Cheska), and Evan D’Angeles (Zhan) in Paper Dolls. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Kevin Shen (Chiqui), Jon Norman Schneider (Jiorgio), Ariel Felix (Sally), Rafael Sebastian (Cheska), and Evan D’Angeles (Zhan) in ‘Paper Dolls.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Ensemble: Evan D’Angeles, Ariel Felix, Rafael Sebastian, John Norman Schneider, and Kevin Shen
‘The Paper Dolls’ at Mosaic Theater Company
Sally, Cheska, Zhan, Jiorgio and Chiqui (played by Ariel Felix, Rafael Sebastian, Evan D’Angeles, John Norman Schneider and Kevin Shen, respectively) are the Paper Dolls. They share a playful chemistry and kinship that keep the audience invested in their story. On paper, the dolls appear to be carbon copies of the same person – a Filipino, gay, transgender, migrant worker employed as a home nurse in Tel Aviv – but it is precisely when their similarities are placed side-by-side that we see their individuality and humanity shine through. – Ravelle Brickman
Sherrita Wilkins’ Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Ensemble: Jonathan Adriel (Andy Wright), Malik Akil (Charles Weems), C.K. Edwards (Roy Wright), DeWitt Fleming Jr. (Ozie Powell), Scean Aaron (Willie Roberson), Aramie Payton (Eugene Williams), Darrell Purcell Jr. (Clarence Norris), Lamont Walker II (Haywood Patterson), and Joseph Monroe Webb (Olen Montgomery)
‘The Scottsboro Boys’ at Signature Theatre
Nine fine actors play the Scottsboro Boys. Each actor lets us see a distinct individual, one whose character arc ends unhappily, onstage as it did in life. Yet by the end of the show something exhilarating happens, something that transcends both the story and its form: One by one the actors each break free from the emotional dissonance that all their collective singing and dancing necessarily entailed, brilliant as it was. And in those moments of self-disclosure and self-affirmation, one can witness an ensemble so united there can be no acting award category for it—for it is the shared integrity of nine black men dropping their minstrel masks and finally not acting for the sake of white comfort. —John Stoltenberg
David Siegel’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Mateo Ferro as Sonny
‘In the Heights’ at The Kennedy Center
I really was impressed by Mateo Ferro in the Kennedy Center’s In the Heights. He’s a 16-year-old local actor with as much (if not more) stage presence than the bigger names he was performing alongside. His performance of Sonny was the most wonderfully surprising performance of the evening. For a teen making his Equity debut, he more than held his own on the stage, and occasionally stole the spotlight from the larger Broadway names. The song “In The Heights” and his verse in “96,000” were particularly notable and highlighted his natural talent at channeling his skills into his cocky character. – Em Skow
Em Skow’s Review

Craig Wallace and Nick Fruit in Round House Theatre’s production of “Master Harold and the Boys." Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.
Craig Wallace and Nick Fruit in Round House Theatre’s production of ‘Master Harold and the Boys.’ Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.

Nick Fruit as Hally
‘Master Harold and The Boys’ at Round House Theatre
Fruit delivers a performance that ranges from prickly to delicate, cynical to sentimental, and always believable. He was totally convincing as the young Hally who plunged way too far into his darkest, racist self and cut himself off from one of the most meaningful relationships in his life until a realization comes too late. His performance culminates with a contorted, crushed, and crumpled physical performance in the last scenes of Master Harold and The Boys. – Amy Kotkin
Amy Kotkin’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Kyla Garcia as Sarah Ridge Polson
‘Sovereignty’ at Arena Stage
Kyla Garcia delivers a lyrical and passionate performance as the young Cherokee lawyer who returns to the reservation, determined to fight for the tribe and for the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act in the United States Supreme Court. – Ravelle Brickman
Ravelle Brickman’s Review
Elizabeth Ballou’s Interview with Kyla Garcia
Molly Smith and Playwright Kathryn Nagle Discuss ‘Sovereignty’ and Why Plays by Native-American Women Are Vital
Gloria Steinem Talks About ‘Sovereignty’ at Arena Stage

Edwin Lee Gibson as Dick Gregory in 'Turn Me Loose.' Photo by Margot Schulman.
Edwin Lee Gibson as Dick Gregory in ‘Turn Me Loose.’ Photo by Margot Schulman.

Edwin Lee Gibson as Dick Gregory
‘Turn Me Loose’ at Arena Stage
In Turn Me Loose: A Play About Comic Genius Dick Gregory, Gibson is honest, raw, thoughtful, and wickedly funny. Turn Me Loose plays out like Gibson’s one-man show, in a series of mock stand-up routines, monologues, and one ended phone calls. – Chuck Leonard
Beatrice Loayza’s Review

Grace Gonglewski as Paulina
‘A Winter’s Tale’ at Folger Theatre
For this writer, Grace Gonglewski as Paulina in Folger Theatre’s production of A Winter’s Tale is one rock solid, indispensable presence. Throughout the show, Gonglewski’s Paulina is a stand-out. She is not bombastic or comic or too pure, just imposing. – David Siegel
Kendall Mostafavi’s Review
David Siegel’s Interview with Grace Gonglewski

Kimberly Gilbert as Billie Dawn
‘Born Yesterday’ at Ford’s Theatre
From the lead to the surrounding ensemble, there is a shared vitality to Born Yesterday. But Kimberly Gilbert in the central role of Billie Dawn is the sun around which other cast members rotate. Gilbert is beyond electric. She is the Northern Lights. – David Siegel
David Siegel’s Review
Kelsey Hunt Dresses the Stars in Ford’s Frothy Revival of ‘Born Yesterday’ by Ravelle Brickman

Rick Hammerly in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.
Rick Hammerly in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride.’ Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

Rick Hammerly as Miss Tracy Mills
‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ at Round House Theatre
Hammerly struts, spins, and sashays his way into the audience’s heart as drag queen Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride. Hammerly led the cast with utter verve and adroit comic timing, leaving joy and laughter in his wake. – Nicole Hertvik
David Friscic’s Review
David Siegel’s Column

e’Marcus Harper-Short as Creon
‘The Gospel at Colonus’ at WSC Avant Bard
e’Marcus Harper-Short deserves special recognition. As musical director, keyboard player, and Creon all rolled into one, he both knitted the show together (while on piano) and gave a star turn as the proud, cruel Creon. The scenes between songs often felt rushed, as if director Sandra L. Holloway wanted to get to the next musical number as quickly as possible, but Harper-Short’s Creon, uncle to Oedipus and regent of Thebes, took full advantage of his scene. – Elizabeth Ballou
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review

Broselianda Hernandez as Older Dedé
‘En el tiempo de las mariposas’ at GALA Hispanic Theatre
Broselianda Hernandez anchors the show as Older Dedé. Her expressions are subtle but convey decades of regret, and she commands the stage every time she appears. Older Dedé has the most lyrical lines of the show, and Hernandez handles the words with appropriate gravity. It brought tears to my eyes when Dedé said that memories are like scraps of paper in the wind, the ink vanishing into the air. – Elizabeth Ballou
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review

Danielle Davy (Brigitte) and Nanna Ingvarsson (Jeanne) in Guilt. Photo by Jae Yi Photography.
Danielle Davy (Brigitte) and Nanna Ingvarsson (Jeanne) in ‘Guilt.’ Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

Nanna Ingvarsson as Jeanne and Danielle Davy as Brigitte
‘Guilt’ at Scena Theatre
Scena production of Guilt soars beyond mere silly big-emotion melodrama, whenever Nana Ingvarsson (as a cloistered tough-minded, seemingly sexually repressed Nun)and Danielle Davy (an at-first naïve young woman cast aside by her own father) appear. Ingvarsson and Davy turn what could have been a mere melodrama (without the power and beauty of operatic music) into a potent production about women finding their way through a maelstrom of spiritual, secular and personal conflicts. – David Siegel
David Siegel’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Nanna Ingvarsson as Mouth
‘The Beckett Trio’ at Scena Theatre
Ingvarsson’s musical mastery of Becket’s language is sublime in all three short Beckett plays staged by Scena, but it is mind-blowing in the second, Not I. Ingvarsson plays Mouth, who is just that: a brightly lit red-lipped mouth appearing in darkness through a hole eight feet above the stage, per Beckett. And Mouth runs off at the mouth with a torrent of phrases and ellipses that Ingvarsson makes piteous and hilarious at the same time. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Naomi Jacobson as Dr. Ruth Westheimer
‘Becoming Dr. Ruth’ at Theater J
Let’s begin with the marvel of Jacobson as Dr. Ruth herself. Jacobson does the nearly impossible. She inhabits the character of a feisty Dr. Ruth, making her not a stick figure, but alive and easygoing despite the trauma in the real Dr. Ruth’s life. Refreshingly, Jacobson does not try to mimic Dr. Ruth or make her performance into a kind of theatrical stand-up comedy routine. Even more difficult, I would think, is that Jacobson held the audience to her as Dr. Ruth; an audience on the night I saw the production that likely knew Dr. Ruth for quite some time and would not want anyone to mess with their personal memories and recollections. – Ravelle Brickman
David Siegel’s Review
Ravelle Brickman’s Interview with Dr. Ruth Whose Life Story Became the Basis of Becoming Dr. Ruth

Ahmad Kamal (Malik) and MJ Casey (Bud Abramson) in 4,380 Nights. Photo by C Stanley Photography.
Ahmad Kamal (Malik) and MJ Casey (Bud Abramson) in ‘4,380 Nights.’ Photo by C Stanley Photography.

Ahmad Kamal as Malik Essaid and El Hadj El Kaimand
‘4,380 Nights’ at Signature Theatre
The cast gives unnerving performances, especially the marvel of Ahmad Kamal in two roles, that of Guantanamo detainee Malik Essaid and 19th-century Algerian Berber leader El Hadj El Kaimand. As detainee Essaid, Kamal shows a wide range of emotions: bewilderment, hate, fear, pain, and a simple longing for decency and human connections.
– David Siegel
David Siegel’s Review

Katie Kleiger as #7
‘The Wolves’ at Studio Theatre
Kleiger gives one of the most nuanced “bad girl” performances I’ve ever seen. Her performance was perfectly layered and fascinating to observe. Her take on the character is an expertly crafted fine line between being worldly and immature. Kleiger is magnetic in the role. – Hilary Sutton
Hilary Sutton’s Review

Margaret “Maggie” Kudirka, dancer
‘No One Can Survive Alone’ at Howard Community College
Margaret “Maggie” Kudirka earns my vote for both her outstanding performance and her determination to dance and produce shows despite her rigorous treatments for metastatic breast cancer. At last winter’s concert for the “Bald Ballerina,” as she is known in the dance world, the tall, lithe contemporary dancer performed a beautiful solo, created by her friend, Adrienne Canterna, an award-winning international dancer. Maggie has lots of friends and professional associates – she was dancing with the Joffrey Ballet when first diagnosed. Look for dozens of local and national performers at the 5th Annual No One Can Survive Alone Fundraiser Concert at HCC’s Smith Theater, Campus Drive, Columbia, MD on Sunday, Jan. 13, at 2:30 p.m. – Carolyn Kelemen
‘Bald Ballerina’ Maggie Kurdira Dances for Life by Carolyn Kelemen

Playwright/Performer Meshaun Labrone. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Meshaun Labrone as Daryl Spokane
‘Spook’ at the 2018 Capital Fringe
Written, directed, and performed by Meshaun Labrone, Spook is about a black cop named Spokane (called “Spook”) who has been on death row for three years convicted of shooting to death four male fellow police officers, three white and one black, and bludgeoning to death a black female officer. With an hour left before his execution, he starts explaining why he did it. What follows is riveting and excruciating testimony delivered in a fever pitch by an actor whose depth and range are unmatched in my Fringe-going memory. The play dares us to understand what drove Spokane. And in doing so, it rips open raw racial wounds not only between whites and blacks but also among blacks. An indelible drama of morals. Emotionally scalding, politically scathing, and ethically scorching. One of the most significant revolutionary acts of theater ever to come out of Fringe. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Jenna Lawrence as Billie
‘Unnecessary Farce’ at the Keegan Theatre
Kicking off the farcically good time was Billie, played by Jenna Lawrence. A junior cop and regrettably talented linguist, Billie manages to be unskilled with just about every tool of a cop’s trade. Though her self-assured naiveté was always ready to take on a challenge, it was a few “typical Billie” blunders that set this production’s amusing train wreck off to the great start; wearing her uniform to an undercover stakeout as one example and bringing snacks as another. Easily the most physical comedian in this merry cast, Lawrence’s Billie quite literally hopped, flipped, and rolled her way to cascades of laughter. Much like the outlandish comedy of the Marx Brothers, Billie was wrapped in lovable gaffes, endearing ineptitudes, and miles of heart. – Em Skow
Em Skow’s Review

Ron Litman as O’Brien
‘1984’ at Scena Theatre
Ron Litman’s performance as O’Brien, apparatchik and believer in the fictional “Ingsoc” political philosophy, was at turns frightening, evil, and politically seductive. Litman embodied the idea that politically, “the individual is dead.” I adored his nuanced and naturalistic performance. Litman’s scenes in 1984’s infamous Room 101 with Oscar Ceville’s character, Winston, the protagonist of 1984, were some of the most wrenching I’ve seen this year.” – William Powell

Jonathan Lee Taylor and Sam Ludwig in The Farnsworth Experiment. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Jonathan Lee Taylor and Sam Ludwig in ‘The Farnsworth Experiment.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Sam Ludwig as Philo Farnsworth and Jonathan Lee Taylor as David Sarnoff
‘The Farnsworth Invention’ at 1st Stage
At the center of the story are Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff played by Sam Ludwig and Jonathan Lee Taylor respectively. Farnsworth is driven by the passion of discovery and Ludwig exudes the character’s electric excitement for his ideas. Sarnoff is not your average antagonist. He is the Goliath to Farnsworth’s David and Taylor plays him with ruthless ambition. Still, there’s a hint of sorrow and guilt in his performance that allows the audience to sympathize with his character and not simply dismiss him as a villain. Taylor and Ludwig guide the energy onward through the story, focusing more on the human interactions rather than mechanics. – Kendall Mostafavi
Kendall Mostafavi’s Review

Robert Madeley as Frankenstein
‘Frankenstein’ at Aquila Theatre
This Frankenstein was notable for encompassing more of Mary Shelley’s vision than most versions of the story. Robert Madeley was exceptional as a highly intelligent, tortured Monster. We saw the Monster enraptured by the loving atmosphere of a family in exile, only to be crushed when they inevitably rejected him. Madeley had a passionate, highly intelligent argument with James Donovan’s Victor Frankenstein about the nature of parenthood that left us asking: What does Victor, as a parent, owe to the desperate and needy being he has created, who resorts to violence out of his overwhelming pain? – Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes’ Review

Molly Margulies as Catherine Catty Coombs
‘Incredibly Dead’ at Baltimore Rock Opera Society
The absolute scene-stealer in Incredibly Dead is Molly Margulies as the sister, Catherine Catty Coombs. Margulies throws her entire body into her character, eliciting laughs with the exaggerated facial expressions and limb extensions of a silent B-movie star, or Looney Toons character. – Cassandra Miller
Cassandra Miller’s Review

Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.
Jimmy Mavrikes (Will) and Lukas James Miller (Mike) in Girlfriend. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Jimmy Mavrikes as Will and Lukas James Miller as Mike
‘Girlfriend’ at Signature Theatre
The rock musical Girlfriend celebrates the tentativeness and exuberance of a budding romance between two gay teens in a small town in Nebraska in the 1990s. The onstage chemistry between Mavrikes (Will) and Miller (Mike) is riveting. When they dance with each other to the music, it is as if their unspoken courtship gets physical. But more often they are facing the audience and reacting as if facing each other. Are they looking into some invisible mirror to know so minutely what the other is feeling and thinking, even in pauses between lines? How do they manage to fill each silence such that we hold our breath for what a look or glance will reveal next? And when they are not belting out songs but simply speaking softly very up close, how do they conspire to so transfix us as moment by moment they let us in on what is going on in their respective hearts? As exquisitely performed by Mavrikes and Miller, Girlfriend is a sublimely touching love story that aches with emotional authenticity in each instant. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review
David Siegel’s Column

Hilary Morrow as the Queen and Cymbeline
‘Imogen‘ at Pointless Theatre
It is Hilary Morrow as both the Queen and Cymbeline who emerges as the show’s most versatile star. Morrow sweeps around the stage in a billowing gown, holding a puppet of King Cymbeline. She is equal parts Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland and Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove as the scheming queen, and her excellent puppeteering as Cymbeline shows right away who holds power in the British court.
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review

Kristine Nielsen and Eliza Huberth in The Way of the World. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Kristine Nielsen and Eliza Huberth in ‘The Way of the World.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Kristine Nielsen as Rene
‘The Way of the World’ at Folger Theatre
Kristine Nielsen as Rene revealed herself to be a gifted physical comedian: a combination of high spirits, rage, and good old feminine resourcefulness. I half expected her to burst into song like Ethel Merman any minute, and start belting out “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.” The Machiavellian brilliance of Rene, which was revealed gradually throughout the evening, was a refreshing take on Congreve’s Lady Wishfort, who spends most of her time trying to entrap uninterested men and watching her makeup flake off. – Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes’ Review
Post-Play Palaver: John Stoltenberg and Sophia discuss their reaction to a show

Jeremy Morse as Ogie
‘Waitress,’ National Tour
Waitress was beautifully directed by Diane Paulus and choreographed by Lorin Latarro. But the part of Ogie is played by Jeremy Morse, who steals the show as the oddball suitor to Dawn. He is brilliant in his show-stopping number, “Never, Ever Getting Rid of Me.” His physical comedy and limber dancing brings to mind Ray Bolger or Donald O’Connor and his character turns out to be a perfect match for his love interest, Dawn, who is also intensely and lovably weird. – Chuck Leonard
Chuck Leonard’s Review for the National Theatre 
John Harding’s Review for the Hippodrome

Desi Oakley as Jenna
‘Waitress,’ National Tour
I can’t imagine a more throat-tightening tribute to the late Adrienne Shelly than this 2016 Broadway musical based on her wonderful 2007 film. Leading the pack of amazing voices in the road company was Broadway rising star Desi Oakley, whose country-tinged vocal mastery of the charming score was dominant among the delights. I left with no doubt at all that I had been in the presence of a major new singing talent.
Chuck Leonard’s Review for the National Theatre 
John Harding’s Review for the Hippodrome

Jon Hudson Odom in ‘Botticelli in the Fire.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Jon Hudson Odom as Botticelli
‘Botticelli in the Fire’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Drawing inspiration from Rufus Wainwright, Prince, David Bowie, and RuPaul, Jon Hudson Odom’s performance in Jordan Tannahill’s new play Botticelli in the Fire just blew me away. His Botticelli is every bit the bohemian artist, and Odom channels the flamboyant charm of Purple Rain-era Prince in each scene. But Botticelli is layered: he’s also selfish and willfully ignorant of turbulent Florentine politics. Odom’s face is so expressive that each twitch of the lips or the eyebrows signals something.
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Interview with Jon Hudson Odom

Jon Hudson Odum as Nat Turner
‘Nat Turner in Jerusalem’ at Forum Theatre
The marvel is that given all Nat’s righteously over-the-top speeches, the character emerges movingly as very human, a seer and prophet maybe but not a madman or lunatic. And that is due to the emotionally sublime performance of Jon Hudson Odom. At times he seems possessed of a passionate certainty that could only originate in some other realm where justice is held sacred, and he makes us believe that realm exists. – John Stoltenberg
Ramona Harper’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Kelsey Painter as Judy Moody
‘Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt’ at Adventure Theatre MTC
It’s a testament to Kelsey Painter’s portrayal of Judy that the third-grader comes off as recognizably adolescent without being grating. Not easy, given that Judy is prone to exasperation, tantrums, and roaring when she doesn’t get her way. But Painter creates a fleshed-out character capable of deep emotional pivots who brings a contagious energy to her role. – Nicole Hertvik
E.A. Aymar’s Review

Palesa Pryor and Walter Parker Jr. in Honey. Photo courtesy of Nameless Theater.
Palesa Pryor and Walter Parker Jr. in ‘Honey.’ Photo courtesy of Nameless Theater. Photo courtesy of the theater.

Walter Parker, Jr. and Palesa Pryer as John and Honey
‘Honey’ by Nameless Theater 
It’s an intimate show in an intimate space – an actual hotel room with an audience of just 12 – and the closeness of the actors to the audience creates a heightened sense of excitement. The guests walk in on a man (Walter Parker, Jr.) flipping through TV channels in a sleeveless undershirt and boxers on a king-size bed. As we take our seats around the small room, a young woman in a black teddy (Palesa Pryor) comes out of the bedroom, and asks him, “How was it?” We spend the next thirty minutes mere feet away from these characters as their relationship unfolds before us.  – Cassandra Miller
Cassandra Miller’s Review

Heather Raffo as Noura
‘Noura’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company (Women’s Voices Theatre Festival)
Raffo has a taut elegance as Noura. She ably carries the show, moving around the stage with nervous energy so intense she practically vibrates. Raffo is also the playwright of Noura and her script bounces effortlessly between humor and strained arguments. It’s one of the most realistic plays I’ve seen in the last few years: every scene feels possible.
Elizabeth Ballou’s Review
Natalie Tucker’s Interview with Heather Raffo
Sophia Howes’s Column

Ayana Reed (Marie) and Roz White (Rosetta) in ‘Marie and Rosetta.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.
Ayana Reed (Marie) and Roz White (Rosetta) in ‘Marie and Rosetta.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Ayana Reed as Marie Davis and Roz White as Sister Rosetta Tharpe
‘Marie and Rosetta’ at Mosaic Theater Company
This play with music featuring phenomenal performances by four black women is so enrapturing and overwhelming in soul sisterhood and singing power, it leaves one speechless. And White and Reed, the show’s two shining actor-vocalists, are incandescent. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Phillip Reed as Touchstone and Nigel Rowe as Andy
‘As You Like It’ at The Keegan Theatre
Andy and Touchstone’s raw chemistry and vibrating physical comedy is one of the stellar components of this musicalized version of As You Like It. Whenever the pair were onstage together, I found myself smiling in anticipation or laughing out loud at their comedic romance. – Nicole Hertvik
Karim Doumar’s Review
Nicole Hertvik’s Interview with Co-Directors Cara Gabriel and Josh Sticklin

Billy Finn, Nancy Robinette, Alex Alferov, and Eric Hissom in Everything Is Illuminated. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Billy Finn, Nancy Robinette, Alex Alferov, and Eric Hissom in ‘Everything Is Illuminated.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Nancy Robinette as Old Woman
‘Everything Is Illuminated’ at Theater J
Several timelines interweave in the play, as well as shifts from naturalism to magical realism; not all is always as it seems. So it is that the protagonist Jonathan encounters an Old Woman who lives alone in a small house one room of which has shelves full of photographs and other mementos in labeled boxes. In Nancy Robinette’s magnificent portrayal, the Old Woman delivers a heart-stopping story recalling what happened to the shtetl of Trachimbrod that Jonathan has come in search of. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Maria Rizzo as Roxie Hart
‘Chicago’ at The Keegan Theatre
In Maria Rizzo’s riveting performance, Roxie is a bundle of vulnerability, with a fascinating tentativeness that reads as both insecurity and moxie. Rizzo can belt out a solo (her “Funny Honey,” is sensational), and she can high-kick like a chorine on caffeine. But it is in the quiet authenticity with which she conveys Roxie’s conflicted inner life that Rizzo’s performance becomes a star turn. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Susan Rome as Roz and Tom Story as Ray in Roz and Ray. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Susan Rome as Roz and Tom Story as Ray in Roz and Ray. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Susan Rome as Roz and Tom Story as Ray
‘Roz and Ray’ at Theater J
The two performances are so powerful because they observe the specific natures of these two people, avoiding the pitfalls of hero/villain clichés. Rome and Story allow Roz and Ray to be who they are: brave, strong, weak, flawed, needy, with good hearts tested by their limitations and traumatic circumstances. Ray’s big, loud emotions, and large, loose physicality make a striking contrast with Roz’s tighter, more controlled, voice and body. When he yells and screams or cries, it comes from the gut. When she grapples with the moral, professional, and political dilemmas she confronts, or the fatigue of a long and losing fight against disease and institutional failure, the anxiety and tension are palpable. When they kiss, it is a real, emotionally complicated, kiss, coming from the depths of their characters. – Bob Ashby
Bob Ashby’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Erika Rose as Jackie
‘Queens Girl in Africa’ at Mosaic Theater Company
Erika Rose’s performance in Queens Girl in Africa is awesome to behold. She plays the playwright’s teenage self, plus her parents, school friends, and others, with an incandescence that won’t stop. —John Stoltenberg
Sherrita Wilkin’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column
Erika Rose Lights Up the Stage in ‘Queens Girl in Africa’ by Ravelle Brickman

Madeline Joey Rose as Destinee
‘Mom Baby God’ at Taffety Punk
This solo show written and performed by Madeline Joey Rose— about the right’s attack on abortion rights—is as playful as it is powerful. Based on Rose’s extensive firsthand research into the anti-abortion movement, the play centers on a fourteen-year-old girl, Destinee, and takes place at a Students for Life of America conference. Its form is delightfully comedic and dramatic, and Rose’s versatile portrayal of Destinee and the other characters she meets is enthralling. A profound fusion of personal politics and compelling performance. —John Stoltenberg
David Siegel’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Q&A with Madeline Joey Rose

Matthew Schleigh as Singer in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photo by Daniel Schwartz.
Matthew Schleigh as Singer in The ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle.’ Photo by Daniel Schwartz.

Matthew Schleigh as the Singer and Azdak
‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ at Constellation Theatre
Matthew Schleigh wears many hats in this production: Singer, narrator, guitarist – he even composed the music (with Brian Lotter). Schleigh is both narrator and judge, commenting on the action and serving, at times, as a one-man Greek chorus. He is also part of the three-piece band, strumming along with keyboard player Ben Luyre and percussionist Manny Arciniega.
Ravelle Brickman’s Interview with Artistic Director Allison Arkel Stockman
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Alexandra Silber as Guenevere
‘Camelot’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Although I did not review this magnificent Camelot, directed by Alan Paul, I was enormously impressed by Alexandra Silber’s Guenevere. Guenevere is in many ways an unsympathetic role. After all, it is her affair with Lancelot which destroys Camelot! Silber had a marvelous, free-spirited quality which somehow made her restlessness understandable and appealing. – Sophia Howes
Geoffrey Melada’s Review

Fabiolla da Silva as Lauren
‘This Is All Just Temporary’ at Convergence Theatre
At the center of this tension is Lauren (Fabiolla da Silva), who recently graduated and has come home to find a job while she figures out her future. Da Silva plays the complexity of Lauren flawlessly. She displays the ups and downs that times of crisis can create, while always maintaining the core stability of her relationships. – Kendall Mostafavi
Kendall Mostafavi’s Review

Iason Togias as the Poet in An Iliad, now playing at Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.
Iason Togias as the Poet in ‘An Iliad.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Iason Togias as the Poet
‘An Iliad,’ performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Togias’s mastery of both body and voice allows him to play the gods and mortals of Homer’s epic of the Trojan War, the poet who recites their deeds, and the violence they both deal out, and receive. It’s a muscular performance that remains sensitive to wartime trauma. – Ian Thal
Ian Thal’s Review
David Siegel’s Interview with the Creators of An Iliad

Michael Urie as Hamlet
‘Hamlet’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Michael Urie’s Hamlet was overflowing with ideas, wit, and animation. He was always in motion, vividly alive, operating at a physical and mental speed approximately three times as fast as those around him. His soliloquies sparkled with creativity and humor. What was so interesting, apart from the originality of the portrayal, which was considerable, was his ability to suggest that the pain of his loss had catapulted him into an emotional realm where he was utterly alone, separated from his loved ones as if by a pane of glass. – Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes’ Review
Michael Urie Opens Up About His Hamlet at Shakespeare Theatre Company by John Stoltenberg

Ro Boddie and Craig Wallace in Round House Theatre’s production of “MASTER HAROLD” … and the Boys. Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.
Ro Boddie and Craig Wallace in Round House Theatre’s production of “Master Harold and the Boys. Photo by Kaley Etzkorn.

Craig Wallace as Sam
‘Master Harold and the Boys’ at Roundhouse Theatre
Wallace is so mesmerizing in this role and so perfect in his build-up to the crucial scene, where he bares all the anger and sorrow he’s been holding so long that I completely forgot that I’d seen the play at least twice before. – Amy Kotkin
Amy Kotkin’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column

Justin Weaks as Will
‘Long Way Down’ at Kennedy Center
Long Way Down is told in the voice of a 15-year-old named Will, and Will’s inner emotional life shines through Weaks’s performance. He is on stage alone for just over an hour and holds the audience in the palms of his hands. It is bravura solo storytelling. —John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg’s Review

Andrew White as Henry Hobson
‘Hobson’s Choice’ at Quotidian
Andrew Walker White delivers an extraordinary characterization of the blustering, tyrannical, woman-hating and frequently inebriated title character, one Henry Horatio Hobson. – Ravelle
Ravelle Brickman’s Review

Jaysen Wright as Tom in ‘Actually.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Jaysen Wright as Tom in ‘Actually.’ Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Jason Wright as Tom
‘Actually’ at Theater J
Jason Wright’s performance is charismatic. From the endearing charm he exudes at the beginning, to his playfulness when Tom and Amber meet cute, to his howl of anguish when he stands accused of raping her, Wright’s stature as an actor becomes augmented before our eyes. —John Stoltenberg
Beatrice Loayza’s Review
John Stoltenberg’s Column


  1. I saw several of the performances cited in this list. The glaring omission is David Schlumpf as Buddy in Olney Theatre Center’s “Elf The Musical.” With true compassion that shines through his performance, David is responsible for bringing holiday happiness to more people than almost anyone — second only to the Big Guy himself.


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