2023 Capital Fringe Preview: ‘Shut Up Martha’

A loud-mouthed political wife blows the whistle on the Watergate burglary, bringing down a president and (nearly) all his men.

Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!

Former President Nixon once grumbled, “I’m convinced if it hadn’t been for Martha, there would’ve been no Watergate.”

In Shut Up Martha by Jake Lipman, a new play premiering in Capital Fringe, audiences are introduced to Martha Mitchell, the outspoken wife of Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell.

When John and Martha Mitchell moved to Washington in 1969, Martha was celebrated for her political wit and savvy. The media reveled in Martha’s habit of fixing herself a drink, eavesdropping on her husband’s calls, then dishing to the press what she’d overheard.

In June 1972, while the Mitchells were campaigning for Nixon’s re-election campaign, five men were arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate complex.

The Nixon White House rushed to call Watergate a “third-rate burglary,” only to be bested by Martha’s call to a trusted journalist friend, Helen Thomas. Martha revealed to Helen that she and John knew one of the burglars, James McCord, and stranger still, that she was being held against her will in a hotel room in California.

Shut Up Martha explores how the men around Nixon conspired to keep Martha shut away and shut up as the scandal spread. Americans soon learned about the dirty dealings within the White House, leading to a political reckoning and Nixon’s eventual resignation.

While it has been over 50 years since the Watergate burglary, Lipman sees parallels between then and now.

“They say history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes,” she muses. “Here we are, living through intense social upheaval, media scrutiny, and investigations into our political leaders. I admire Martha’s courage to speak truth to power, no matter the cost to her personally.”

Lipman developed the piece over the course of the last year, drawing on archival footage, press clippings, and first-person accounts. It was workshopped on Zoom with actors across the country; most of the rehearsals for this production have also taken place virtually. The cast and crew hail from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, and will unite in DC in the days leading up to their first performance on Thursday, July 13. Lipman remarks, “The Capital Fringe seemed like the ideal place to premiere our piece, given so much of the story is set in DC.”

In addition to Lipman, the cast features Matt Gibson (Wonka), Jaya Tripathi (Mud), Loralee Tyson (The Deuce), and William Douglas Turner (Plot Device).

Running Time: 50 minutes.

Shut Up Martha plays three times from July 13 to 16, 2023, at Squirt – 1st Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Jake Lipman is a performer, director, and playwright living in New York, known for creating thought-provoking comedies onstage. Her other plays include Relentlessly Pleasant, Be Prepared, The Inn at Lake Devine, and Up a River/Down the Aisle. She is a two-time Puffin Foundation Grant recipient and Directors Lab North alum. www.JakeLipman.com

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Festival to pop up in Georgetown and Dupont (news story, April 28, 2023)


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