Media & Press
Meet the team of talents behind this explosive dark comedy.
Suzan-Lori Parks — a playwright, screenwriter, novelist, and songwriter — won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog. In 2001 she received a MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Grant. And in 2018 she received the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. She holds Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Spelman College. Her work is the subject of the PBS film The Topdog/Underdog Diaries, and her plays are published by Theatre Communications Group and Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Her first feature-length screenplay was girl 6, for Spike Lee. She has also written screenplays for Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey. Other screenplays include adaptations of Toni Morrison’s novel Paradise, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and screenplays for Miramax and Brad Pitt. Her plays include In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer nominee), Venus (1996 Obie Award), Fucking A, The America Play, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 Obie Award), The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, and 365 Days/365 Plays. Topdog/Underdog (2002 Tony nominee) has had successful runs on Broadway, in cities throughout the United States, and in London at the Royal Court Theatre. Additional recognition includes two NEA playwriting fellowships, a W. Alton Jones Grant, a grant from The Kennedy Center Fund For New American Plays, the Whiting Award, and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the CalArts/Alpert Award, the PEW Charitable Trusts, and The Guggenheim Foundation. Suzan-Lori is a professor at the California Institute for the Arts, where she heads the Dramatic Writing Program. Her first novel, Getting Mother’s Body, is published by Random House. www.suzanloriparks.com
Louis E. Davis (Booth) was a member of the Helen Hayes Award-winning ensemble in the Theater Alliance production of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s hip-hop choreopoem Word Becomes Flesh. His other credits include Solas Nua’s The Frederick Douglass Project (Helen Hayes Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a play), Taffety Punk’s Don Juan, Avant Bard’s King Lear, Imagination Stage’s The Freshest Snow Whyte, Mosaic Theater Company’s Charm, and Folger Theatre’s The Second Shepherds’ Play. He recently appeared in Constellation Theatre’s The Master and Margarita.
Jeremy Keith Hunter (Lincoln), making his Avant Bard debut, is one of the dopest artists you’ll ever meet. Hailing out of the DMV, Jeremy is a multidisciplinary artist with a strong focus in theatre and film acting, writing, and graphic design. His previous theatre credits include The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek (Metrostage), The Farnsworth Invention (1st Stage); Rabbit Summer (Ally Theatre Company); Word Becomes Flesh (us) (Theater Alliance); Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies, Milk Like Sugar, When January Feels Like Summer (Mosaic Theatre Company); Arabian Nights (Constellation Theater); and The Effect (us) (Studio Theatre). www.iammercury.com
THE CREATIVE AND PRODUCTION TEAM
DeMone Seraphin (Director) is founding artistic director of The New American Theatre Co. in New York City and is excited to return to Avant Bard, after appearing as Singer Oedipus in its hit production of The Gospel at Colonus (2017). Selected directing credits include The Exonerated, Dutchman, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Jitney, Split Second, Endangered Species (world premiere), The Mountaintop, Runaways, Winter’s Tale, and Barnum. DeMone is the recipient of a regional Emmy Award and the Joseph Jefferson Award.
Nephelie Andonyadis (Set Designer) has been designing scenery and costumes (and sometimes puppets) from coast to coast for more than twenty-five years. She is an ensemble member of Cornerstone Theater Company and has worked with Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theater, SITI Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Playmakers Repertory, and South Coast Repertory among many others. She has recently returned to Washington, DC, the city of her birth, after a long hiatus. Upcoming projects in the area include designs with Studio Theatre, Adventure Theatre, Urban Arias, and Theatre J. Nephelie earned her BS from Cornell University and her MFA from Yale University’s School of Drama and was a recipient of the NEA/TCG Design Fellowship. www.nepheliemaria.com
Danielle (Danie) Harrow (Costume Designer) is excited for her first show with Avant Bard. Recent designs include Mystery of Love and Sex, The Laramie Project, and The Rocky Horror Show, all for Iron Crow Theatre. When not focused on costuming, Danie also designs custom clothing for special events. www.seaminglydanie.com
John D. Alexander (Lighting and Projections Designer) is excited to return to Avant Bard. His recent designs include A Civil War Christmas by Paula Vogel (1st Stage), American Moor by Keith Hamilton Cobb (Anacostia Playhouse), the national tour of The Migration: Reflections of Jacob Lawrence presented by Step Afrika!, the national tour of Anne and Emmett by Janet Langhart Cohen, Marie and Rosetta by George Brant (Mosaic Theater Company), and Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau (TheatreSquared). Upcoming designs include HERstory by Goldie Patrick (The Kennedy Center).
e’Marcus Harper-Short (Composer and Sound Designer) received the Helen Hayes Award (2015) for Outstanding Musical Direction for Black Nativity by Langston Hughes (Theater Alliance); a Grammy Award nomination (1998) for Best Traditional Gospel Recording as Conductor for Love Alive V: Walter Hawkins and the Love Center Choir; and a Hollywood NAACP Theater Image Award Nomination (2004) for Best Musical Direction for Da Kink in My Hair by Trey Anthony. He was Musical Director and played Creon in Avant Bard’s 2017 production of The Gospel at Colonus (nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Ensemble) and its 2018 revival. Other credits include Musical Arranger for Three Mo’ Divas (PBS Special National) conceived by Marion J. Caffey, and Musical Direction for Invisible Life (Apollo Theater, New York) based on a book by E. Lynn Harris. In 2017 he was named a United States Arts Envoy by the U.S. Department of State.
Liz Long (Properties Designer) returns to Avant Bard having recently worked her magic for Ilyria, or What You Will. Other recent designs include Puffs, Coraline, and 1776 (Landless Theatre Company), The Man Who, The River, and Happy Hour (Spooky Action Theatre), and Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche (Monumental Theatre). When not making theater magic, Liz is the Production Manager for Encore Decor Event Design and Production.
Casey Kaleba (Fight Choreographer) returns to Avant Bard having worked on previous productions of King Lear, Othello, Night and Day, and Lulu. Recent work includes productions at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (Henry IV), Signature Theatre (Billy Elliot, The Scottsboro Boys), and Rorschach Theatre (Reykjavic). www.toothandclawcombat.com
Keta Newborn (Production Stage Manager) is thrilled to be joining Avant Bard for her fourth production, having been the Stage Manager on King Lear and both the 2017 and 2018 stagings of The Gospel at Colonus. As a freelancer, Keta has worked in the world of theatre for over 10 years. She has held several titles including Stage Manaager, Assistant Stage Manager, Venue Manager, Production Assistant, Light & Sound Board Ops, and now Production Manager. Her past credits include The New Play Festival (Young Playwrights’ Theater), Little Thing, Big Thing (Solas Nua), Yellowman (Anacostia Playhouse), Black Nativity and Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (Theater Alliance), Leto Legend and Failure: A Love Story (The Hub), Disgraced, Secret Garden, and Gidion’s Knot (Next Stop), and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, How We Got On, and Gidion’s Knot (Forum), The Flick and How We Got On (Company One). Keta would like to thank the whole Avant Bard cast, crew, and the Gunston Theatre for being a part of amazing shows! She thanks G_d for the opportunity to be used as one of His vessels, working to bring His work of art into the hearts of many while doing what she loves. www.newbornketa.com
Andrew Wilkinson (Rehearsal Stage Manager) is extremely grateful for this opportunity to participate in Topdog/Underdog. This is Andrew’s first show with Avant Bard. Previous credits include Catch Me If You Can, Side Show, and Les Miserables at Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Alluvion Stage Company; Young Frankenstein, Newsies, Momma Mia, Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Little Mermaid, and Gypsy at Toby’s Dinner Theatre; and Hairspray, Honk Jr., Blueberries for Sal, Pirates!, and Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas at Adventure Theatre.
Krysta Hibbard (Associate Director) is a New York–based director and self-proclaimed “artist wrangler.” She is currently an Artistic Associate for Shrunken Shakespeare Company and previously served as the Associate Producer for the nonprofit organization Throughline Artists, producing the Summer Shorts festival at 59E59, as well as Stage to Screen. Past works include The Exonerated, Arrabal, For Hope, Acolyte, Seafarer, Dark Clothes of Night, Love Letters to a Dictator, Everybody Dies, Certifiable. Upcoming projects: Origin Stories, Belle of Amherst. www.krystahibbard.com
Ashley D. Buster (Assistant Director) is a DC Metro native from Silver Spring, MD. She is a member of the Actors’ Equity Association and is currently School Programs Manager at Shakespeare Theatre Company. She excited to be back at Avant Bard but this time as an Assistant Director! Ashley’s area credits as an actor include The Gospel at Colonus (Avant Bard), The Wiz and Freedom’s Song (Ford’s), Elmer Gantry (Signature), and Godspell (Infinity). She is excited to have her first experience as an Assistant Director with this team!
A. Lorraine Robinson (Dramaturg) is a freelance Director/Dramaturg. She received the Central Ohio Theatre Critics Circle Award: Best Director & Production in 2002 (The Laramie Project, Contemporary American Theatre Company) and 2017 and 2018 Tony Awards: Excellence in Theatre Education — Honorable Mention Awards for her directing work at Sitar Arts Center. She was formerly Co-Founding/Artistic Producing Director of MuseFire Productions. www.linkedin.com/in/arobinson4
Victor Vazquez (Casting Director) serves as the Casting Director/Line Producer at Arena Stage in Washington DC. Previous employment includes Center Theatre Group, The Pasadena Playhouse, Cornerstone Theatre Company, and DAQRI. Originally from Los Angeles, he now splits his time between DC, New York, and London.
Ralph Derbyshire (Technical Director) is an Arlington native. He has worked throughout the DC region for the last 15 years, most notably with The Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2002-08, 2010-15), GWU’s Lisner Auditorium (2007-12), as well as many local crewing companies setting up special events. He has held the titles Master Carpenter, Master Flyman, Assistant Stage Manager, and Shop Foreman. He also works and volunteers with the National Folk Festival as well as several other festivals locally and around the country. This is his fourth show as Technical Director with Avant Bard—his first was The Gospel at Colonus (2018)—and he is excited to bring his skills to real theatre.
The young lovers in Shakespeare’s The Tempest fall in love instantly as if by magic. Is such a thing possible in real life? SOPHIA HOWES looks at the play, the history of love magic, the biology of romance…and speed-dating.
Ferdinand and Miranda’s love in The Tempest would seem to be the Shakespearean equivalent of those advertisements for a beach holiday: pure magic, love and joy in a beautiful island setting. Is their romance just a fantasy? Let’s look at the reality.
Why do Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love so fast and hard?
In a real sense, their love begins in magic. It was Prospero’s magic that caused the wreck that precipitated Ferdinand’s arrival. When Ferdinand meets Miranda, he is following the “sweet air” of Ariel’s song. At first, he believes Miranda is magical herself, a goddess of the island. Miranda, who has lived with magic all her life, believes Ferdinand is magic too, a divine being, more than mortal.
Prospero feels the need to castigate Ferdinand, to create some conflict between the lovers to enhance their interest. The two do not realize that they are being manipulated, so the beauty of their love remains pure. Prospero calls Ferdinand a traitor. Ferdinand draws his sword. They are on the brink of a fight, while Miranda hangs on her father’s garments begging him to stop. Ferdinand responds with one of the most beautiful speeches in the play:
My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up
My father’s loss, the weakness which I fled,
The wrack of all my friends, nor this man’s threats,
To whom I am subdued, are but light to me,
Might I through my prison once a day
Behold this maid: all corners else o’ th’ earth
Let liberty make use of; space enough
Have I in such a prison.
Prospero then says to Ariel, perhaps with some cynicism, “It works.”
Can their love really be pure if Prospero is always pulling the strings? Yes.
The next time we see Ferdinand, he has become a “patient log-man,” piling up logs at Prospero’s behest. Miranda offers to do it for him, but he refuses. He asks her name, “chiefly that I may set it in my prayers.” They exchange words of love, but it is Miranda who proposes to Ferdinand, while he joyfully accepts. Their love cannot be tainted, even as Prospero spies on them and schemes to bring about their marriage.
Prospero interferes again when he warns Ferdinand not to seduce Miranda. Ferdinand, answers diplomatically and the subject is dropped. The next time we see the two lovers, they are playing at chess. Miranda playfully accuses Ferdinand of cheating, and he pronounces his devotion once again.
In a way, Ferdinand and Miranda never escape the magic and mystery that surrounds them. Prospero does not drown his book until the very end of the play. But the unselfishness and devotion of the lovers makes it easy to understand that even if their love began in magic, it is now real.
Is love magic really a thing?
The association of magic with love has a long and storied history. Love spells can be found in the literature of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In ancient Greece the gods could make you fall in love with whomever they chose; it often proved to be an unlikely person. Women tended to use philia spells to keep their husbands faithful, because women in this period had little or no power. Men preferred eros spells to inspire desire in the opposite sex.
In the year 160 CE, a Roman writer named Apuleius was accused of using love spells to attract a wealthy widow. He ended up in court, and his defense was that love was completely controlled by the gods. He won the case.
In the Middle Ages, a grimoire (a textbook on magic) called The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, by Abraham of Worms, contained spells that could be used by a woman “to make a man fall in love with you.”
During World War II, respected German folklorist Will-Erich Peuckert (1895–1969) escaped from the Nazis and withdrew into exile. In 1945 he fled advancing Russian troops, leaving behind his library of over 30,000 books. He is principally remembered, however, for an aside during one of his lectures in Bremen in 1959. He was discussing witches’ ointment that might contain hallucinogenic substances and remarked that he had once tried the ointment himself. This caused a scandal about the Professor who practiced witchcraft, flew through the air, and experienced many erotic adventures. The truth was slightly less exotic. He and a friend had tried the ointment in the 1920’s and he never used it again.
Can love magic happen in real life (like in speed-dating)?
Eli Finkel, a social psychologist from Northwestern University, says, “We’ve known since the 1970s that if you encounter people under pleasant circumstances, you have a much higher chance of liking them than if you encounter them under unpleasant circumstances.” In his research on speed-dating, he has found that if study participants say they “like” someone they are almost always “attracted” as well.
Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher from Rutgers University points out that there are three elements to romance:
- lust, the desire for sexual gratification;
- attraction, the exhilaration when around a person and need to develop an emotional union; and
- attachment, the calmer closeness that comes after five years of marriage, for example.
They are not necessarily stages that progress in order: Attachment can be first, then attraction and lust, or vice versa.
Is there such a thing as a modern love potion? Dr. Fisher says yes. To increase sex drive you would use a combination of androgens and estrogens. For affection, you’d administer dopamine and norepinephrine, at the same time as a drug to reduce the availability of serotonin. To increase attachment, you’d deliver a mix of oxytocin and vasopressin.
It is true, Dr. Fisher says, that increasing dopamine levels will cause temporary attraction. But the catch is that it won’t last. “In the morning you’re going to look at that person and wonder what the hell you were thinking.”
Where does that leave Ferdinand and Miranda and their “love at first sight”?
New research out of the Netherlands suggests that love at first sight is indeed possible (Zsok, Haucke, De Wot. & Berelds, 2017). The study asked nearly 400 participants to complete a survey after meeting a potential romantic partner.
These are the conclusions:
- Yes, people do experience love at first sight, a strong attraction that may or may not develop into a relationship.
- People seem more likely to experience love at first sight with very attractive people.
- Men seem to have more instances of love at first sight than women.
- Often, love at first sight isn’t mutual.
- When there is love at first sight, commitment and intimacy are more likely to follow.
This is clearly a victory for the romantics among us!
And where does this leave Ferdinand and Miranda? Young, idealistic, and very much in love! There is no evidence in The Tempest that suggests Ferdinand and Miranda’s love for each other was anything but genuine. Although magic surrounds it and in some sense envelops it, their “love magic” comes from within.
Sophia Howes, a playwright and director, is a senior reviewer and columnist DC Metro Theater Arts. More about her playwriting and her writing about DC theater can be found online.