‘Will on the Hill’ returns in person with barbs worthy of the Bard

Shakespeare Theatre Company's buzzy annual event featured a cast full of boldface names plus theater kids from Charles H. Flowers High School.

Every year there is at least one bipartisan occasion in Washington that everyone enjoys: Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Will on the Hill. It is one of STC’s signature events. Members of Congress, DC influencers, and professional actors perform for a worthy cause, the Education and Engagement Programs of the Shakespeare Theatre. This year there was extra excitement because it was an in-person performance. And instead of exploring one of Shakespeare’s plays, we were invited to experience the presence of THE MAN HIMSELF!

For the 20th anniversary of the event, Playwright, Director, and Actor Nat Cassidy devised a play called No, Really, This Time It’s True! starring the Immortal Bard (maybe he really IS immortal).  As played by Justin Guarini (Once Upon a One More Time), Will is snappily attired in a blue suit, ruff, and shades, full of energy, and ready (or so it seems) to tell us just what he, the World’s Greatest Writer, was doing while we suffered through the pandemic. After a gracious onscreen introduction by our host, STC Artistic Director Simon Godwin, the fun begins.

Justin Guarini as William Shakespeare, Jacob Yeh as Moderator, and Dayonna Jameson as Stage Manager in ‘Will on the Hill.’ Photo by Kevin Allen Photography.

We don’t meet Shakespeare right away. He is, at first, partaking of the no doubt delectable pastries in the green room, so we are greeted by the refreshingly modest Stage Manager (Dayonna Jameson), a recent graduate of DC’s own Charles H. Flowers High School, whose students will be featured in tonight’s program. Our Moderator is Jacob Yeh, and he riffs valiantly while we await the entrance of the Big Guy.

Just as the Stage Manager is about to share with us her favorite speech from the Bard, which I personally was really looking forward to, surprise! The Swan of Avon (Justin Guarini) makes his entrance. It should be noted that this complimentary nickname was bestowed upon Shakespeare by famous contemporary Ben Jonson, who appears on screen played by the one and only Michael Urie.

The Bard of All Time doesn’t want to be called “Bill” (too casual?) or “Earl of Oxford” (definitely NOT the real writer of his plays). He informs us that he receives 1/8 penny every time someone quotes his work. This can add up: The phrases “wear your heart upon your sleeve,” “puking”, and “one fell swoop” all originated with the Bard, along with many more.

Various Congressmembers have the opportunity to ask Shakespeare a question. Virginia Senator Mark Warner announces that he is a “big fan” and notes, “You lived in troubled times. Do you have any advice for us on living in troubled times?”  DC’s own Congresswoman, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, asks the National Poet of England what is his favorite production of his plays; Shakespeare cites an elementary school in Poughkeepsie with a brilliant Hamlet.  Although it seems unlikely, there is a precedent for this: When as a child the great British actor Laurence Olivier played Brutus in a production of Julius Caesar, legendary British actress Ellen Terry wrote: “The small boy who played Brutus is already a great actor.”

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) offers one of the most intriguing questions. It’s well-known, and a centuries-long mystery, that in his will The Bard of All Time left his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway. Coons asked a question that has bedeviled critics and biographers for centuries, “Why? And what happened to the first best bed?” Unsurprisingly, no answer is forthcoming.

Dana Bash, chief political correspondent for CNN, exercising her celebrated journalistic skills, reminds us, among other things, that a key plot point of The Winter’s Tale relies on the nonexistent shoreline of Bohemia, a land-locked country in Central Europe. What’s up with that?  And what about Measure for Measure? It takes place in Vienna but the characters have Italian names. “Poetic license,” answers the Bard. Fair enough. If William Shakespeare doesn’t have poetic license, who does?

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) and Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) have some witty comic moments together.

Theater students from Charles H. Flowers High School offer a delightful rendition of the Masked Ball scene from Much Ado About Nothing, with Sofiya Cheyenne (Beatrice) and David Bishins (Leonato). These talented beginners have not one but two spectacular dance numbers.

The students of Charles H. Flowers High School in ‘Will on the Hill.’ Photo by Kevin Allen Photography.

Various of Shakespeare’s less popular plays are mentioned, possibly just to annoy him: King John. Henry VIII. The Two Noble Kinsmen (Will protests he was only a co-writer on that one).

There is even a snippet of Romeo and Juliet—in space! As actor David Mitchell’s Will says to his Juliet in the “Star-Crossed Lovers” episode of the hilarious British series Upstart Crow, “Right, Kate, you swig the potion, Florian finds you, thinks you dead, and breaks off the engagement. I can’t see how it can possibly go wrong.”

In the end, the Upstart Crow (unflattering nickname coined by critic Richard Greene) has a reluctant confession. He hasn’t written anything during the quarantine. What? Shakespeare had writer’s block? Impossible!

Congratulations are in order to Playwright Nat Cassidy, Director and STC’s Senior Director of Engagement and Education Samantha Wyer Bello, and the theater students (or future stars) from Charles H. Flowers High School.

The cast of ‘Will on the Hill.’ Photo by Kevin Allen Photography.

And a special tribute to the celebrities of the evening who gave generously of their time and talents; the famous faces from Congress:

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA)

from the media, policy, and government:

CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, former Chief of Staff at the Central Intelligence Agency and NBC/MSNBC National Security Analyst Jeremy Bash, and Grover Norquist with Americans for Tax Reform, Marla Allard, host, creator and producer of Relatively Speaking

and the actors, all DC favorites:

David Bishins, Sofiya Cheyenne, Felicia Curry, Yonatan Gebeyehu, Justin Guarini,  Michelle Hurd, Christopher Michael Richardson, Chani Werely, Gregory Wooddell, and Jacob Yeh

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Will on the Hill was performed on June 13, 2022, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW. Washington, DC 20004.

No, Really, This Time It’s True!
By Nat Cassidy
Directed by Samantha Wyer Bello
Assistant Director: Raine Ensign
Stage Manager: Kurt Hall

CAST (in alphabetical order)
Marla Allard, Cameo
Dana Bash, Cameo
Jeremy Bash, Cameo
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Cameo
David Bishins, Leonato, Cameo
Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Cameo
Nat Cassidy, Maxwell
Sofiya Cheyenne, Beatrice, Cameo
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Cameo
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Cameo
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Cameo
Felicia Curry, Ambassador Jessica Tanzer, Cameo
Yonatan Gebeyehu, Cameo
Simon Godwin, Host
Justin Guarini, William Shakespeare
Michelle Hurd, Cameo
Grover Norquis, Cameo
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Cameo
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Cameo
Christopher Michael Richardson, Rep. Chris Garber (I-VA)
Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Cameo
Michael Urie, Ben Jonson, Cameo
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Cameo
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Cameo
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Cameo
Chani Wereley, Sen. Chani Bradley (I-MD)
Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Cameo
Gregory Wooddell, Ronny, Christopher Marlowe
Jacob Yeh, Moderator

THEATER STUDENTS OF CHARLES H. FLOWERS HIGH SCHOOL
Shanelle Ingram, Teacher
Dayonna Jameson, Stage Manager
Precious Adewetan
Norgenia Ahoussou
Taylor Brown-Duarté
Brenden Davis
Alanna Dortch
Ivy Earl
Markel Hill
Madison Hueston
Brian Jackson
Anthony McDonald
Paris McKenzie
Music Miranda
Nic Mitchell
Sheena Nnam
Nyome Nnebe
Elisha Peavy
Jada Postell

Run Crew
Light Board Operator: Brice Hilburn
Stage Ops: Niki Sears, Abby Wasserman, Rachel Wolf
AV Supervisor/Video: Gordon Nimmo-Smith
Audio Engineer: Travis Byrne
A2: Garrett Parker
Videographer: Jeffrey Ray
Wardrobe: Jules Capuco     

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Artistic Director: Simon Godwin
Executive Director: Chris Jennings `

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Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time real estate editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

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