DCTA 2022 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Professional Productions

These professional productions made an indelible impression on our writers this year. Did we overlook a favorite of yours? Let us know in a comment!

OK, let’s be real. Making theater in 2022 was not easy. While COVID didn’t wreak as much havoc on local theaters as it did in 2021, audiences were still reluctant to return to theaters in pre-COVID numbers. This makes me glad that DC Theater Arts doesn’t produce a “Best of” list. Because in this environment, just getting out there and making art makes someone THE BEST OF in my book. But as the year draws to a close, we asked our writers to reflect back on the shows they saw in 2022. Here’s what made the biggest impact on the DCTA team in 2022.

Cheers, Nicole Hertvik
(DC Theater Arts Editor-in-chief)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Folger Theatre
Some dreams are so beautiful you don’t want to wake up. Folger Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged in a “Playhouse” built inside the Great Hall of The National Building Museum, is one such dream. The magnificent Playhouse, designed by Scenic Designer Tony Cisek in collaboration with Jim Hunter, is a theatrical wonderland on which this consummate production played out. —Sophia Howes
DCTA Review
“A first look at Folger’s magical ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the National Building Museum” by Barbara Mackay

The cast of Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ inside the Great Hall of the National Building Museum. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

A.D. 16 at Olney Theatre Center
A.D. 16, a world-premiere musical imagining a teen romance between Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth, showed the world that a pesky little pandemic wasn’t going to stop Olney Theatre from thinking big. With an A-team of creative talent featuring direction by Stephen Brackett, fresh off his gig directing A Strange Loop at Woolly Mammoth, and music and lyrics by Despicable Me screenwriter Cinco Paul, A.D. 16 promised a lot — and delivered even more. A cadre of swoon-worthy local actors brought delicious life to a score that could easily become a cult favorite on the order of Be More Chill or Dear Evan Hanson. I said it when the show premiered in February and I’ll say it again now: Someone give me a cast recording of A.D. 16 stat! —Nicole Hertvik
DCTA Review
“Exegesis of a sexy Jesus: A look at love in ‘A.D. 16′” by John Stoltenberg

American Prophet at Arena Stage
History has rightly placed abolitionist Frederick Douglass on the pedestal of history. How he got there is the subject of American Prophet, a world-premiere musical developed at Arena Stage. Show creators Charles Randolph-Wright and Marcus Hummon used Douglass’ prodigious writings to craft the text of the musical and their own imaginations to create an inspiring portrait of Douglass’ wife, Anna Murray Douglas, who has often been overlooked by historians. —Bob Ashby (enthusiastically endorsed by John Stoltenberg and Sophia Howes)
DCTA Review
“The woman who freed Frederick Douglass: a Q&A with Kristolyn Lloyd” by John Stoltenberg

Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass) and the cast of ‘American Prophet.’ Photo by Margot Schulman.

America’s Requiem: A Knee on the Neck at Strathmore
Bethesda, Maryland’s Strathmore Center commemorated the life and tragic murder of George Floyd with the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s A Knee on the Neck, featuring the poetry of Dr. Herbert Martin and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorale and impressive soloists including J’Nai Bridges. Hailstork’s Requiem is juxtaposed against Mozart’s for a suitable monument to the life of George Floyd. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy (Really) at Rorschach Theatre
Trust Rorschach Theatre to immerse us in an unreal world. With Kate Hammill’s feminist adaptation of Dracula in hand, Rorschach has conjured a wondrous world that stabs at the heart of male authority in women’s lives. The site of the performance was a disused firehouse and director Rebecca Rovezzi’s brisk pacing and imaginative use of that already-strange space — in service of a script studded with high-stakes sexual politics — make for a thrilling experience in theatergoing. —John Stoltenberg
DCTA Review

Scene from Step Afrika!’s ‘Drumfolk.’ Photo by Jacob Andrew Iwinski.

Drumfolk by Step Afrika! at Arena Stage
If you have ever seen the theater/dance company Step Afrika!, you know it is distinctive. It makes points that are clear, commanding, imperative, poignant, sassy, vibrant, and colorful. Step Afrika!’s latest production, Drumfolk, just opened at Arena Stage, and as always, the dancing is fiery and superbly executed. More importantly, the production tells a story that not enough people have heard, about two 18th-century events of rebellion and suppression. —Debbie Minter Jackson and John Stoltenberg
DCTA Review

Grace at Ford’s Theater
Nolan Williams Jr.’s compassionate new musical about Black family and culture was an unstoppably entertaining meditation on grief, gratitude, and culture. Enough said. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review

Jessie Mueller and Phillipa Soo in ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Guys and Dolls at the Kennedy Center
Frothy as a coupe of champagne and brimming with beloved tunes, Guys and Dolls is almost always a crowd-pleaser. Layer on the stellar cast and awesome production values of the Kennedy Center’s offering and you’ve got a near-perfect musical. Featuring Broadway stunners James Monroe Iglehart, Jessie Mueller, Steven Pasquale, and Phillipa Soo, this production was one for the ages. No trip to NYC required. —Nicole Hertvik
DCTA Review

Heroes of the Fourth Turning at Studio Theatre
There’s a lot of mental shrapnel flying from brain to brain in Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Playwright Will Arbery’s breathtaking late-night bull session. Arbery’s five fascinating characters all share, in addition to their Catholic faith and conservative politics, a connection to an echo-chamber Christian college out in the boonies of Wyoming. For two-plus totally engrossing hours, we get to eavesdrop on their epic conversations, their contradictions and counterpoints, their discursive head trips, their philosophical arias — and the experience is mind-blowing. Director Sivan Battat has made each moment in this rich ratiocination pitch-perfect, each stage picture a telling tableau. Plus the cast is superb. Each actor has at least one major monologue performed with a persuasive power that would be a showstopper were it a musical number. —John Stoltenberg
DCTA Review

Hi, Are You Single? at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Written and performed by Ryan J. Haddad, Hi, Are You Single? is so full of candor, playfulness, hurt, laughter, and, most important, agency, that it is essential viewing for anyone who believes theater has the power to transform. The play follows Haddad’s experiences as an individual who is both Queer and has a disability and how both impact his love life. The result is an insightful and significant autobiographical one-man show. —Gwyneth Scholar
DCTA Review

The cast of ‘Into the Woods.’ Photo by Daniel Rader.

Into the Woods at Signature Theatre
The theater gods are surely smiling at Signature Theatre’s deliciously detailed production of a Sondheim classic, Into the Woods, directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner with extraordinary clarity. Signature Theatre is justly renowned for its Sondheim productions, and this Into the Woods joins its honor roll. It’s a complete theatrical package, down to the smallest detail, encompassing the deepest emotions of one of the greatest works of the American musical theater. —Bob Ashby
DCTA Review

John Proctor Is the Villain at Studio Theatre
Kimberly Belflower’s John Proctor Is the Villain made its world premiere run at Studio Theatre this year, bringing Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible to a rural Georgia high school. Belfower’s play succeeds by embedding its feminist message in the very real, sometimes mercurial emotions of teenagers who are studying The Crucible in English class. With a uniformly excellent cast and powerful direction by Marti Lyons, John Proctor Is the Villain is one of the most solid and thought-provoking shows to grace a DC stage this year. —Bob Ashby
DCTA Review
“Gen Z feminism is the hero in ‘John Proctor Is the Villain’” by John Stoltenberg

Lucky Stiff at NextStop Theatre Company
The show itself, while wonderfully absurd, is nothing particularly remarkable, but with a cast of characters giving everything, embracing the spectacle of it all with heartfelt conviction, it becomes a hilarious, engaging portrait of exaggerated musical theater. The kind of musical theater where the melodrama partners with humor so that there’s just one goal: to entertain. And NextStop’s Lucky Stiff delivered. —Gwyneth Sholar
DCTA Review

Mr. Popper’s Penguins at Imagination Stage
“Sophisticated” and “elegant” might not be words you’d expect to read in a review of a musical aimed at children, but Imagination Stage’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins embodies both. Harkening back to classic productions like Annie and 42nd Street, Mr. Popper’s Penguins transports the audience to the Depression-era 1930s fictional small town of Stillwater where protagonist Mr. Popper dreams of leaving for an Antarctic adventure. A strength of the show is that it is not in any way “dumbed down” for the young audience. It is sophisticated, believing that children are intelligent enough to grasp its concepts and themes, and they absolutely do. —Sarah Shah
DCTA Review

Front: Gaby Albo; from left: Hugo Brument, Amy Romero, Steven Orrego Upegui, Camila Cardona, Brayan Llamoza, and Camila Taleisnik in GALA Hispanic Theatre’s production of ‘On Your Feet!’ Photo by Daniel Martinez.

On Your Feet! at GALA Hispanic Theatre
On Your Feet! La historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan !En Español! captures the awe-inspiring legacy of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. GALA Hispanic Theatre’s completely Spanish rendition of the 2018 Broadway musical, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, managed to perfectly recount the couple’s hard-fought rise to fame as their band, the Miami Sound Machine, became the first Latin-inspired band to cross over to mainstream pop success in the United States. —Ajani Jones
DCTA Review

Once on This Island at Constellation Theatre Company
Constellation Theatre Company’s Once on This Island is the type of production you leave wishing for a soundtrack featuring the cast you just heard. That’s not because the Broadway version isn’t good. It’s just because every so often a cast brings an extra element of heart to their performance. Once in a while, there’s a special something that an ensemble of actors can capture in the live music, leaving you wanting to revel in that rarity as long as you can. Constellation’s Once on This Island is that production. —Gwyneth Sholar
DCTA Review

Othello/Desdemona at IN Series
In Othello/Desdemona, two operatic works designed to be viewed in tandem, the texts of Shakespeare and Toni Morrison wrestle with each other, contrasting the bleak brutality of corporate masculinity weaponized to enforce racial and gender dominance with a multifaceted vibrant vulnerability of the afterlife. Seeing them together engages you in a conversation about race and art, white supremacy, and inevitable change. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review

Rachel Lawhead (Susan), Matthew Pauli (Philly), Erin Denman (Sarah), Jessica Lefkow (Widow Quinn), Danielle Gallo (Honor), Ryan Tumulty (Jimmy), and James J. Johnson (Malomo) in ‘The Playboy of the Western World.’ Photo courtesy of Solas Nua.

Playboy of the Western World at Solas Nua
Solas Nua has given us another grand play in its mission of drawing exclusively from contemporary Irish drama. Their productions are always smart, thoughtful, and genuinely entertaining. Thanks to the sensibilities of producer and artistic director Rex Daugherty, the ensemble acting in Playboy of the Western World is top-notch. The play reminds us we are a small world after all, and migration is a global crisis. —Susan Galbraith
DCTA Review

Requiem at IN Series 
IN Series is transitioning from holding the works of Mozart as the center of its being to holding that space for, as Artistic Director Timothy Nelson has noted, “some things new and some things needed.” It’s always a good idea to have some sort of ritual to mark major shifts in our lives. IN Series’ Requiem fulfills that role superbly. And I am pleased to report that it is flat-out glorious. Rarely heard Boulanger and Vivier juxtaposed to the canonical Mozart and staged in one of the earlier model DC subway trains. Why would you miss this? —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review

She Loves Me at Signature Theatre
Tragedies tomorrow. But at Signature Theatre, comedy tonight, in the form of She Loves Me, a musical sweeter even than vanilla ice cream. She Loves Me is more than simply a “rom-com” providing escapism in a time of trouble. By illuminating real emotions of believable characters, it brings to its audience a sense of what’s most valuable in human lives, doing so in a way that is delightfully entertaining. Signature’s She Loves Me does that as well as any show I’ve seen. —Bob Ashby
DCTA Review

The Folks at Home at Baltimore Center Stage
The Folks at Home is a great play with a lot to say and a worthwhile jaunt into what feels like a sitcom set in a Baltimore townhouse. R. Eric Thomas’s script features an interracial gay couple in middle-class America dealing with an uncertain future with nutty parents in tow. They are behind on their mortgage, one partner has been laid off, and there might be a questionable, lazy ghost in the house who likes to watch them make breakfast. And that’s just the beginning. —Daniella Ignacio
DCTA Review

Derrick Sanders III (Everett “EJ”), Michael Kevin Darnall (Isom), Bjorn DuPaty (Big Charles), Brian Marable (Cordell), and Blake Morris (Dwayne) in ‘The Hot Wing King.’ Photo by Jati Lindsay.

The Hot Wing King at Studio Theatre
Playwright Katori Hall gives us portraits of Black men loving Black men — or trying to — in a variety of configurations: fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, extended family and friendship groups, and lovers. The production of Hot Wing King at Studio Theatre was, as the phrase goes, hot, hot, hot. The play is courageous in its exploration of the landmines within the landscape of human connection. And it is funny, not so much because it tries to be, but because the behavior of human beings when we try to avoid facing what we know we must face, is funny. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review
“Who’s the one with blue hair in ‘Hot Wing King’? A Q&A with Michael Kevin Darnall” by John Stoltenberg

The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci at Shakespeare Theatre
Mary Zimmerman — a playwright, opera and theater director, and performance studies educator — is a true original in contemporary theater, and let us not forget she is a bloody “Genius,” awarded by the MacArthur Foundation. So when she comes to town to present any of her work, there is something to learn here. In 2022, Zimmerman shared a revival of her 2003 work where she had turned to the great Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, specifically to his Notebooks. She clearly has pored over da Vinci’s pages, steeped in the swirl of his prodigious wonderings — a genius in conversation with a genius. —Susan Galbraith
DCTA Review

The Rainmaker at 1st Stage
Drought. A con man. Love. An all-American play, The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash gets a superb production by 1st Stage in Tysons, Virginia. Directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes, the associate artistic director of 1st Stage, the revival features Tamieka Chavis as Lizzie Curry at the center of this emotionally charged and uplifting story. —Caroline Bock
DCTA Review

The Tempest at Round House Theatre in collaboration with Folger Theatre
In the hands of co-directors and adapters Aaron Posner and Teller (he of the stage magic duo Penn and Teller), this rendition of one of the Bard’s most enigmatic tales delivers on its promise of spectacle — and much, much more. Posner and Teller’s production will get plenty of praise for its consummate magical craft. But even beyond its deft sleight of hand, this Tempest would still be a feast for the eyes and ears. Dan Conway’s glitzy set, Sarah Cubbage’s polished costumes, and Thom Weaver’s brilliant lights evoke the stage magic heyday of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apart from its technical marvels, this Tempest also benefits from a solid cast. What is truly special about a production like this is that it is even more than the sum of its exceptional parts. Shakespeare and stage magic can pull a crowd on their own, but together they make a Tempest that gives life to illusions and power to an old magician’s quest for justice. —Jared Strange
DCTA Review

Billie Krishawn (Mamie Till-Bradley) enters the courtroom in Sumner, Mississippi, in ‘That Summer in Sumner.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The Till Trilogy at Mosaic Theater
Mosaic Theater’s The Till Trilogy by Ifa Bayeza consists of three plays produced in repertory that tell the story of the final, fatal summer in the life of a Black boy named Emmett Till. Seen all together, they make for an ambitious and panoramic emotional roller coaster full of visual splendor. All of the actors (Scott Ward Abernethy, Jasen Bowen, Anna DiGiovanni, Christopher Genebach, Drew Kopas, Billie Krishawn, Vaughn Ryan Midder, Rolonda Watts, Jaysen Wright) play multiple parts and serve as containers for the lives of people who actually existed and who, for some of us, occupy a deeply remembered but rarely explored area of our memories. And by visiting this rarely explored area of our memories, there is something else that The Till Trilogy accomplishes. It gives us a “safe” space to look at an especially salient moment in our country’s history of white supremacy directed toward Black people, and it gives us an Archimedean point of leverage from which to reevaluate that trauma. The plays that comprise The Till Trilogy are beautiful, haunting, and horrifying to watch. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review: The Till Trilogy 
DCTA Review: The Ballad of Emmet Till
DCTA Review: That Summer in Sumner
DCTA Review: Benevolence
“‘My job is to catch the conscience’: Antonio Michael Woodard on playing Emmett Till in ‘The Till Trilogy’ at Mosaic” interview by John Stoltenberg

Trans Am at Keegan Theatre
Lisa Stephen Friday tells it well. More than anything, Trans Am is a vehicle for her to tell the stories of the moments of her life: of a little boy trying on a skirt, of being fascinated by MTV videos by Freddie Mercury and others, of leaving a Georgia family who didn’t understand for the wilder shores of New York City, of drag queens who accepted and encouraged her, of leading a queer band at the center of the rock and party scenes in New York City during the first decade of the century, of addiction and recovery, of love and loss. The need for transformation is a human universal: Friday’s stories are of one transformation after another that she undergoes, on her way to becoming today a woman who knows who she is. —Bob Ashby
DCTA Review
“Lisa Stephen Friday spills the T on ‘Trans Am,’ her rock musical at Keegan” interview by Sophia Howes

World Builders at Prologue Theatre
It’s a rare gift to see a play so well written and so effectively acted that it feels like you could see it performed in a lightless cave and still feel the impact. World Builders, written by Johnna Adams and presented by Prologue Theatre, is one of those plays. Character-centric, witty, and sharp, the show depicts the relationship between two characters, Max and Whitney, but is, in its best moments, an exploration of self. —Gwyneth Sholar
DCTA Review

And Let’s Not Forget: Online Productions…

Black Flute by IN Series
One of the last online productions coming out of the COVID lockdown, Black Flute welcomes the presence of Blackness and African heritage into the narrative of a European diasporic canon that has often worked hard to keep any African presence invisible. Directed by Kenyatta Rogers, the production features a group of young artists who are in the process of mastering their craft, trying out things that would never be allowed on the major opera houses, which is always a thrill on its own. —Gregory Ford
DCTA Review

.DOCS by Flying V
.DOCS examined online fandom culture and how those communities can sometimes be toxic, hijacked, and/or co-opted for personal gain. The show’s creative team and performers created a space for the audience that was at times laugh-out-loud funny and at times prompted an examination of morality and the human cost of taking down real monsters. The entire performance was accessed virtually through online chat on Discord (an instant-messaging social platform commonly associated with gamers and nerd culture), as well as through a few e-mails, text messages, and Google Docs. The result was a unique hybrid of theater, gaming, and web culture, and a unique Flying V experience. —Rebecca Calkin
DCTA Review

Tia Shearer Bassett in ‘Edward and Christine.’ Screenshots courtesy of the artist.

Edward and Christine by Tia Shearer Bassett
Tia Shearer Bassett’s one-person performance of Kenneth Koch’s “poem-play” Edward and Christine shows what live theater is capable of even over the internet. Bassett plays over 100 characters in more than 50 locations in under an hour and a half from a small corner of her living room showcasing her versatile acting and offering a forum for togetherness. —Charles Green
DCTA Review

The Last Five Years, a feature-length film by ArtsCentric
Kevin S. McAllister directs Ryan Burke and Awa Sal Secka in transformative performances that subvert and surpass expectations. ArtsCentric’s first feature-length film production is for all musical theater lovers who have fallen in love, stayed in love, and learned the sacrifices it takes to make love last —Gabrielle Soto
DCTA Review

DCTA 2022 Staff Favorites: Outstanding Community Productions


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