This June, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) hosted their 15th annual “Will on the Hill” performance, a night where members of Congress and other influential Washingtonians gather to perform a Shakespeare-inspired comedic play. As these D.C. insiders poke fun at themselves and those across the political aisle, they raise money for STC’s education and community engagement programs. 750 guests attended the 2017 “Will on the Hill” performance, and STC raised $510,000 for their programs.
One of these programs, Text Alive!, performed to begin the evening. Text Alive! is a free, Shakespeare-focused arts education program run by STC over the course of a school semester. Public high school English and Theatre teachers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia may apply to the program, and STC Teaching Artists partner with the schools to teach students how to approach Shakespeare. Supported by their drama teacher Jennifer Lowery and STC Teaching Artist Dan Crane, high school students from Alexandria’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology performed their interpretation of the Balcony Scene from “Romeo and Juliet” (Act 2, Scene 2).
The friendliness of the joking and the fun all of the participants appeared to have were nothing short of refreshing.
Six Romeos partnered with six Juliets, and the students shared their lines, smoothly transitioning from one couple to another and back again. In a commentary on our current sociopolitical climate, the students created these romantic pairings based on modern conceptions of forbidden love. An LGBT couple (Madelyn Khoury and Julia Martinez), a couple with disabilities (Caitlin Sughrue and Andra Velea), and—perhaps most astonishingly—a cross-political couple (Aaryan Balu and Sajni Vederey) were some of the star-crossed lovers onstage. The short, but poignant and funny re-imagining of Shakespeare showcased the students’ creativity and talent and highlighted the importance of the arts education programs that STC provides.
After the Thomas Jefferson students took their bows, 20 members of Congress and 31 other members of Washington’s elite filed onstage, arrayed in a rainbow of Shakespeare-esque garb. Joining the impressive cast were four well-known actors: “30 Rock” star Maulik Pancholy, “Turn: Washington’s Spies’” Ian Kahn, renowned Broadway actor Santino Fontana, and actress Emily Swallow, whose credits include “The Mentalist” and “Supernatural.” Channeling their inner-Bard, the bipartisan group began their staged reading of the main performance, “Met by Moonlight.”
Written by Peter Byrne with support from D.C.’s West Wing Writers and directed by STC Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul, “Met by Moonlight” is what happens when Shakespeare meets D.C. insiders. As the summer heat descends on Washington, everyone wants to leave town. Unfortunately, all the infrastructure funding was approved at the same time, so all the roads leaving the District are closed. Furthermore, the Metro is, of course, on fire. Therefore, politicians, interns, journalists, and tourists alike seek refuge in the Patuxent Research Refuge. However, little did they know that Shakespeare’s Oberon (Kahn) and his “Chief of Staff” Puck (Pancholy) have laid claim to the forest and are none too pleased with the influx of Washingtonians. Complete with repurposed Shakespeare quotes and jokes appealing to both sides of the political spectrum, “Met by Moonlight” was witty and enjoyable.
The writing was superb and the delivery funny, especially knowing that the participants were willingly satirizing themselves. The actors spoke in both verse and prose, quoting Shakespeare to cover topics from “The Bachelor’s” rose scene to the plethora of tourists in D.C. Performers quipped in quick succession about Brexit, Hillary Clinton’s walks in the woods, Michelle Obama’s stolen speech, John Kerry’s flip flops, wall building, and Chuck Schumer’s precariously perched glasses. No one was safe and nothing sacred, though the tone was upbeat and in good fun. It was a show best appreciated by the politically savvy and/or D.C.-dwelling, though jokes about Tinder profiles, Snapchat filters, and unicorn frappuccinos also made an appearance.
The inexperience of many of the participants made the show lighthearted. While some Beltway insiders made mistakes, mumbled, or struggled to speak in unison, any mistakes added to the fun. At certain points, it was difficult to tell whether the mistakes were purposeful or written into the script, though I suspect the phrase “best bride” turning into “breast” followed by tittering was unplanned. The friendliness of the joking and the fun all of the participants appeared to have were nothing short of refreshing. In today’s divisive political climate, it was great to see people come together across party and identity lines to support a wonderful cause. As can be expected from an STC performance, “Will on the Hill” was a treat.
Running Time: One hour and 35 minutes, with no intermission.
“Will on the Hill” is an annual event at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This year it was held on June 12, 2017, at Sidney Harman Hal, 610 F St. NW. For more information about STC’s current and upcoming shows, including “School of Lies,” please click here or call (202) 547-1122. For more information about STC’s Text Alive! and other education programs, please click here.