Strange Interlude at Shakespeare Theatre
Death, romance and tragedy are all in a day’s work for American playwright Eugene O’Neill. O’Neill’s insightful prose and timely subject matter made him one of America’s most beloved and prolific playwrights of the twentieth century, and this month Shakespeare Theatre will feature his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Strange Interlude.
Directed by STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn, Strange Interlude examines the life of Nina Leeds who encounters a series of destructive relationships in her search for happiness. “The play spans a few decades of Nina’s life. She has something quite tragic happen in her life and that sets off a string of affairs,” says Rachel Spencer Hewitt who plays Madeleine Arnold. “Nina gets married, has a number of affairs outside her marriage, and has a son. [There are] multiple arcs that audiences will discover during the play.”
The play begins in 1919 and continues on until 1946. The story overlaps with both World Wars providing a rich backdrop to this dramatic tragedy. Nina’s life is full of ups and downs: a deceased fiancé, a loveless marriage and more affairs than a presidential candidate. “Nina tries to find love and happiness but there are a lot of obstacles in her way despite her good intentions,” describes Hewitt. “This story is about how tragedy affects the decisions we make in our lives.”
O’Neill’s uncanny ability to capture the psychological drama of his characters is on full display in Strange Interlude. O’Neill’s popularity is largely due to his use of diverse characters and rich storylines. “O’Neill used his own life experience to write diverse characters. He does not shy away from tragedy. He gives language to the darkest human experience; [it’s] a gift,” says Hewitt.
But Nina’s greatest test comes in the form of her son’s future wife Madeleine Arnold. “Ms. Arnold is in the end of Nina’s life. She is the other young woman in the piece. Gordon, Nina’s son, is engaged to Madeleine.” says Hewitt. “We see how these two women negotiate this complex relationship. Nina disapproves of the relationship and Madeleine is one of two female obstacles for Nina.”
When Strange Interlude first debuted in 1928, the show was met with critical and audience acclaim, having addressed such provocative issues as science, infidelity and lost love. “The play covers eugenics and there is a discovery in the play that discusses heredity and passing on a mental illness,” explains Hewitt.
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Hewitt went on to the Yale School of Drama. She found herself in New York auditioning for Broadway shows but has had even more success appearing on the DC stage. “I played Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing and will play Beatrice in Shakespeare’s upcoming production of The Servant of Two Masters.”
O’Neill’s consideration of gender roles in the early part of the twentieth century was ahead of its time. “As a woman it is a very empowering show; where the woman is not an accessory to a man. It is enlightening,” says Hewitt. “The show captures the single woman, wife, mother, daughter and looks at 5 lifetimes in 1 and how impressive humanity is and worth witnessing. We see love take many manifestations, we see how far we have come and we have to contend with what happens in the future.”
Tickets range from $20-$100. Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Shakespeare Theatre Company releases an allotment of $15 tickets to patrons ages 35 and younger. Tickets are usually limited to performances through the following Sunday and are available in person at the Box Office and via phone. There is a limit of four tickets per person. ID is always required to pick up Young Prose tickets.
Strange Interlude runs through April 29 at Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org.
John & Beatrice at The Hub Theatre
In today’s dating world, finding romance is about as easy as finding a Mensa member on a Kardashian reality show, but the Hub Theatre makes it look easy in its new play John & Beatrice. In true DC style, the Hub Theatre features a romantic coupling that is smart, witty, and exciting. “The play finds Beatrice, a well-to-do young heiress, waiting on the 33rd floor of an abandoned building for a man to answer her notice. She has advertised that she has a substantial reward for the man who is able to interest, move, and seduce her, and then John arrives to do just that. But his end goal is the reward, because John is a bounty hunter. It’s sort of a modern and broken fairy tale,” says Helen Pafumi, the Hub Theatre’s Artistic Director and director of John & Beatrice.
Once John arrives on Beatrice’s doorstep the romantic kindling between them is fraught with humor, manipulation and verbal jousting. “I think that they both have different notions of what they’re getting into at the start of the play,” says Eric Messner, who plays John. “John is there to answer the ad and get his reward. Beatrice wants to not be alone. Both of those things are challenged and change over the course of the play.”
Written by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette, John & Beatrice is worthy of a night out on the town at one of DC’s most exciting theatre companies. Pafumi says, “This is a uniquely told love story that is at times seductive, frustrating, scary and much more… oh, and that may or may not have a happy ending.”
Tickets are $25 for general admission adults and $15 for students and seniors.
John & Beatrice runs April 13 – May 5 at the John Swayze Theatre, New School of Northern Virginia: 9431 Silver King Ct. Fairfax, Virginia; 800-494-8497; www.thehubtheatre.org.