Tom Story and Holly Twyford on telling queer stories and protecting DC theater

The two leading lights worked together on 'At the Wedding' at Studio Theatre — he as director, she as mother of the bride — and they had a lot to say about it.

Holly Twyford and Tom Story have been leading lights of the DC theater scene for decades, but the two had never worked together before At the Wedding, Bryna Turner’s hilarious reimagining of matrimonial comedy running at Studio Theatre through April 28. The story centers on Carlo, a lesbian who decides to crash the nuptials of her former lover, Eva, who, as it happens, is marrying a man. Turner’s clever, witty revisioning of genre stereotypes makes for lots of laughs, while also subtly exploring the universality of love and loss, regardless of identity or sexual orientation.

Story, best known as a versatile leading actor, directs the production, which includes musical interludes and employs a large number of local theater artists; Twyford, a five-time Helen Hayes Award recipient, plays Maria, the affable mother of the bride. I spoke with Story and Twyford about the play and about the centering of queer themes in theater, what it means to be working together at last, and survival as a theater artist in post-pandemic DC. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Tom Story and Holly Twyford. Photos courtesy of Studio Theatre..

Let’s start with you, Tom. How did this production come about? Did you go to Studio or did they come to you? What is the origin?

Tom Story: Well, Holly and I are both on a thing called The Cabinet at Studio Theatre [Studio’s affiliated artist program]. The people who are on the Cabinet are mostly people who do multiple things, and I had directed two plays at Studio’s Second Stage. David [Muse, Studio Theatre artistic director] had always said he was looking for something for me, and when he read this play, he thought of me. I hadn’t read it. I’d read the review of the production in New York at Lincoln Center. And then I read [the script], and I thought, “Oh, I can do this. This feels very much in my wheelhouse.” So, we signed off on it. At the time, I was doing Cabaret in the Berkshires. Then the long process of casting and finding designers and all of that began.

Why did you immediately feel that this play was in your “wheelhouse”?

Tom Story: I immediately responded to the humor of it. It’s not like slapstick or that sort of thing. It’s witty. When I read it, I thought, “Well, the wedding play has been done over and over, the wedding movie, whatever, but this has a very ‘now’ kind of vibe to it.” I remember saying to David on the phone that it felt kind of like a modern comedy of manners, that it was about a new set of rules and how someone comes in and breaks them. You know, people used to get married in churches and then had receptions at the country club. Now, the wealthy are having weddings in barns [where the action of At the Wedding takes place], but it’s still incredibly expensive. So there’s a lot to examine there [socio-economically]. But what I really responded to was the language. I just thought [the play] was really funny, but that there was an undercurrent of something else happening in it. Just the fact that there are nonbinary characters. There’s a nonbinary person on stage [Leigh, a possible romantic interest for main character Carlo]. There’s a history of a love story between two women on stage [Carlo and Eva]. I was kind of concerned because, I was like, I’m a man directing this. I’m a queer man. So, one of the things I decided on was to see if we could get all women designers. That felt important to me, and David agreed. So that was one of the original ideas about the production. And one of my other very strong ideas was that I wanted to cast as many local people as I could. That was a huge mission that I had. Because there is less [theater] work, period. And I think there’s less work for people who live in DC. So, I wanted to have all these people who I love and think are wonderful, but so many of them didn’t have work. And the first person I offered a job to was Holly. I didn’t think that she would do it because it was only one scene, but it was a great scene. And I didn’t want to offend her being the mother of the bride, age-wise, but she accepted, which is great, too, because Holly is also on the [Studio] Cabinet. So, it was two [DC-based] artists working together who had never worked together before, which is just nuts.

This is a good point at which to bring you in, Holly. What did this collaboration mean to you, working with Tom for the first time and on this particular play? Because you are playing a smaller role than you usually do.

Holly Twyford: Listen, that’s fine. There are no small roles. When Tom sent me this script — it was an email, but what he said sounded to me like, “You wouldn’t want to do this, would you?” And I thought, this script will have to be really bad for me not to do it with Tom. It is a travesty and a tragedy and a wonder that he and I had never worked together before in all the years we’d known each other. He’s not only a dear friend, but I love his talent and respect his talent. And so it was gonna really have to be a nightmare for me to say no. And then I read it, and what a great scene. Not only is it good writing, but it’s honest writing. Bryna sketched these people really well and really three-dimensionally, and that’s what an actor wants — to be able to look at a play and say, “I know this person.” And that’s how I felt when I read that script and that scene. [In the deliciously comic scene, Twyford’s tipsy Maria empathizes with the lovelorn Carlo, rather than with her daughter, Eva, while dealing with her own angst about who her ex-husband has brought to the wedding.]

Dina Thomas as Carlo and Holly Twyford as Maria in ‘At the Wedding’ at Studio Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

How important was it to both of you that this play has a queer person at the center of it? Tom, you mentioned that the play refocuses the stereotypical view of a wedding. How important was this narrative for both of you, and how have audiences been responding to it?

 Holly Twyford: I can speak to that, because I’m backstage every night, listening. They’re eating it up with a spoon. Partly, because I think we’re a little starved for some queer characters, but also because [the characters are] so much more than that. This is a human story of heartbreak and loss and finding one’s way in the world. So, it [the sexual identity] doesn’t matter, really. I think everyone is really relating to it. We hear that every night. The laughter, but other things, too.

TOP LEFT: Dina Thomas as Carlo and Jonathan Atkinson as Victor; TOP RIGHT: Dina Thomas as Carlo and Yesenia Iglesias as Eva; ABOVE LEFT: Cameron Silliman as Leigh and Dina Thomas as Carlo; ABOVE RIGHT: Dina Thomas as Carlo and Jamie Smithson as Eli, in ‘At the Wedding’ at Studio Theatre. Photos by Margot Schulman.

Tom Story: I also think that not having queer men centered [in the play] is a whole other thing. I think that’s why Fun Home [the musical theater adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir] has been so successful. Fun Home is also a brilliant piece of art. But I see women come to [At the Wedding] and recognize very specific things. And then I see straight people and people throughout the spectrum enjoying it. But I specifically see queer women responding to things that feel very much like someone is representing them, which is a huge part of why I love this play.

I also think it’s generational. These people [the characters in At the Wedding] are not in my generation. When I was coming up, you were either a man, a woman, or transgendered. You were either gay, straight, or bi [bisexual]. Literally, that’s what it was. We were also in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, and there was a lot of protection of identity and fighting for your identity. I’ve always said that there’s a much larger conversation about sexuality, a much larger conversation about gender, than was happening in the ’90s when I was declaring my gayness. There is actually a bigger, much more complicated, conversation to be had. So, to see a play that’s not just a coming-out play, because it’s not that — it’s just “This is who you are, and you’re messed up like everybody else, and you’re going to the wedding of your ex, who happens to be marrying a man..”

Holly Twyford: It’s really telling a universal story, even though it is a queer story, and I like and appreciate that. But the other part of your question about queer narratives in theater… I don’t have my finger on the pulse like Tom does, but it sure doesn’t seem that there are a lot of stories out there that are doing that. I’d say Fun Home, too, and other things Bryna [Turner] has written, like Bull in a China Shop. It seems like there may be more one-person stories. There’s a one-man show going on at Olney now [Avaaz]. But it’s a one-man show, I think about his coming out experience. So there are not that many stories. Are they old news? I don’t know.

Tom Story: You know, there’s no one in this play who has a problem with Carlo’s sexuality. I mean, it’s not even talked about. There was a great birth of art because of the AIDS epidemic, and of course, lots of coming-out stories and all of those things, but this story [in At the Wedding] just is, and that’s what feels so super fresh about it to me.

Holly Twyford: Yes. I recently had a conversation with a younger person, and they didn’t have a coming-out story. They came out when they were, whatever, 12, and I have this huge coming-out story, when I told my father and when I told my mother, and how that played out over the years. For my generation, it was something that we bonded over. It was always one of the first things you talked about when you met someone. When did you come out? And now, it’s a non-issue. And I know that is good, but I also don’t want that to be a history that’s lost. The struggle that came before.

It sounds like what you’re describing is a continuum, and that this play has a place on that continuum.

Holly Twyford: It’s what we all hoped for, isn’t it? What we all hope for is that those stories and those portrayals will become obsolete, because our society has [evolved]. That’s what we hope for in movies with gay people being portrayed, and the horrible stereotypes of the murderous and psycho lesbians over the years. I feel like we’ve now gotten to a point where this [At the Wedding] is the story of a person and their humanness. And they have just as much right to be messy and confused and fucked up as any straight person.

And to crash their ex’s wedding.

 Holly Twyford: Yes!

Tom Story: Another interesting thing is that Bryna [Turner, the playwright] spells out that the audience needs to feel that the wedding is happening around them, but that every scene in the play is actually on the outskirts of the main event. That was a real challenge — to figure out how to make that happen. To have the wedding guests pass through, but then have the two of them [ex-lovers Carlo and Eva] on the dance floor alone. Where are all the other people? They’re not on the dance floor because something else is happening. And that helps you get the sense that Carlo is avoiding the main events. So all of these scenes are taking place with other people passing through or avoiding it. I kept asking myself, “How do you stage this play with 11 scenes?” And I thought, there have to be tropes of things like wedding dances and all of that. So I thought long and hard about all that before we even started rehearsals.

We have a great sound designer in Jane Shaw, so part of my conversation with her was that we had to have recognizable wedding songs like “The Cupid Shuffle” and that sort of thing, but also, Eva is not a square. Eva probably lived with a woman for something like seven years, so there’s a lot of music in that [experience] that also appeals to me. I found this band Muna, which is a lesbian band, and Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” which is a queer anthem and has been for a long time. So it was kind of like a mix of traditional wedding music and music that this generation in the play — late 20s, early 30s — would probably play at their weddings.

So you created all of these dance and music interludes to be bridges between the scenes — they’re not in the play?

Tom Story: A lot of these things, transitions, I created with my friend Britta Peterson, a choreographer whom I’ve known since they were a teacher at American University, and now they live in Brooklyn. So, they came to DC for a few days, then I went to New York for two days, and we just constructed the transitions together. I always knew the key to the play was how it moved around from scene to scene, so we’d listen to music together, and I would say “I like this,” and they would say “It doesn’t mean anything to me emotionally,” and we would play something else and agree on that. So it was a process that happened well before the actors entered the room.

You’ve each been involved in DC theater for decades. Do you see significant evolution or changes that have happened in that time?

Tom Story: I do, but unfortunately, a lot of them are not in a good direction. I think there are less opportunities for people. Theaters seem to have half as many contracts for actors, because they’re still trying to rebuild. The reason I live here, and that I moved here from New York, was l grew up here, and I saw people making a community where they would move around and work all the time and do lots of things, and that didn’t seem possible for me in New York. And that was true for me for a long time in DC. Obviously, the pandemic changed things a lot economically, and also theaters are still getting on their feet. Also, there’s been a big artistic director turnover, which is great, and these people are brilliant, but I don’t know if some of them don’t know us or I think their priority is probably survival. I’m not blaming them, but I do think that if we don’t protect this [DC theater] community, which is one of the strongest in the country, then we’re going to be in some real trouble. Which is part of the reason why in At the Wedding almost everyone is someone I had worked with or was friends with. And I just heard so much frustration about how there was no work, and I thought, there’s no reason why we can’t cast this play with DC artists. There was one part that, because of multiple reasons, was just hard to find here. That was Leigh, the nonbinary character, and I felt strongly that that opportunity should be extended to a human who identifies as a nonbinary person. Yes, there are great things happening here, and yes, there are voices that are being heard from like in At the Wedding, that have not been heard from, and all that is great. But it’s separate from the fact that, if you don’t value the artists that live in DC, the artists that live in DC are going to be forced to do something else or to leave DC. And I don’t want to leave DC. My partner lives here, my family lives here, I’ve had the most success in my career here. I have gotten to do things that I wouldn’t have been famous enough to do in New York City. So that is part of my mission, because I’m scared that I’ve made a life in a place where I no longer can do the thing I love to do as frequently as I have done it. The good thing is that there are so many stories being told that were not being told before, and that is a major plus. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about, literally, the amount of jobs that exist for local people.

Holly Twyford: I’ve got to agree with Tom about how things are looking. I know a big part of it was COVID. We literally lost some theater companies, and as Tom said, a lot of theaters are struggling now. They’re doing one-person shows and two-person shows, and they’re just trying to keep their doors open. What it looks like is theaters are panicking a little bit, and they’re saying, “Let’s bring in big stars and small casts and Broadway successes and things like that.” And I feel like one of the things that could actually help is sticking with the community. Tom is a DC-based actor-director, but other than artistic directors and associate artistic directors, most of the directors that the larger theaters hire are from out of town. And it’s not just actors and directors, but designers, too. There are so many incredibly talented designers in DC. All of that to say that I one hundred percent agree with Tom that there are stories that are being told now that have needed to be told, and there were definitely some growing pains that American theaters have gone through, but there are also some core issues of serving your community and speaking to your community.

The other part of your question had to do with how has theater evolved from when Tom and I were beginning, and the fact that Matthew Broderick is going to come do a show here [in Babbitt at Shakespeare Theatre Company], that does speak to the evolution of DC theater. Friends of mine used to say, “I’m going to get a show at Shakespeare and one at Arena on my résumé, and then I’m off to New York.” That often happened, but it has changed to an extent. I’ll take credit for making Tom come down here, because he was working so much in DC, and I finally said, “Look, you should just move down here.” We’ve become a destination town for theater. Actors would get out of grad school and come here and start a theater company, or they started out in New York and came down to be able to afford things a little more. And so, that part has been exciting to see — that massive transformation that has happened over decades. Now, we’re in a different place, and we need to think about how to move forward in the most positive way. It’s a little scary. I think the other thing about COVID is that theater audiences, the theater lovers and supporters, are older now, and COVID did a number on them. A lot of them don’t want to come back to the theater. So we’ve got to coax some of them back, if we can, and also figure out how to revitalize the theater. And I think that’s through the community.

You seem to be insinuating a need to reach younger audiences, is that right?

Holly Twyford: I’m not just insinuating it. I am saying it outright.

Everything you’ve shared points back to At the Wedding as an example of a production that is doing what you want to see the DC theater community and its supporters do — which is give jobs to DC-based theater artists.

Holly Twyford: Yes. That’s exciting. And we can do more of it.

Tom Story: That is what I am most proud of, more than anything else about At the Wedding. I just hope that there are more productions like this — more creation with all these great people that we know. Let’s all start to speak a similar language, and let’s all be generous, and let’s all find opportunities for each other. That’s how we’ll survive.

EXTENDED: At the Wedding plays through April 28, 2024, in the Milton Theatre at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($49–$95, with low-cost options and discounts available), go online or call the box office at 202-332-3300.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

The program for At the Wedding is online here.

COVID Safety: All performances are mask recommended. Studio Theatre’s complete Health and Safety protocols are here.

Tom Story is an actor, director, and teacher living in Washington, DC. He has appeared in over 75 plays in DC, New York, and around the country. He has directed at Studio Theatre, Round House Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Group, Imagination Stage, Adventure Theatre MTC, and American University. Tom has been nominated for multiple Helen Hayes Awards and is a Fox Foundation Fellow, a Cabinet member of Studio Theatre, and a graduate of Duke University and The Juilliard School. He studied acting with Michael Kahn and directing with Joy Zinoman.

Holly Twyford is performing in her 13th show at Studio, and it is her first collaboration with Tom Story. Previous Studio productions include The Steward of Christendom, The Desk Set, The Road to Mecca, Contractions, and Cloud 9, all of which earned her Helen Hayes Awards nominations, and The Shape of Things, for which she received a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. She has performed in close to 80 productions in theaters in the Washington, DC, area including Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Signature Theatre. She has been nominated for multiple Helen Hayes Awards and is a five-time recipient. She was honored with Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Emery Battis Award for Acting Excellence for her portrayal of Anna in Harold Pinter’s Old Times. She is a charter member of Studio Theatre’s Cabinet, a Ford’s Theatre Associate Artist, and a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow. Also a director, she recently directed Becoming Dr. Ruth at the Village Theatre.

‘At the Wedding’ at Studio Theatre takes the laugh-a-minute cake (review by D.R. Lewis, March 19, 2024)


  1. Amazing to see more local hires, but Studio of all places needs to do more. It is one of the most toxic places to work in DC. Would love to hear David Muse address himself why the local community, in particular artists of color, are still so hesitant to work under his tenure.


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