Summer at the stage: The go-to guide for Northern Virginia theater

Let’s face it, those $7 dollar sodas can get old fast. Skip the silver screen this summer and head for the stages of these award-winning Virginia theaters. Just leave the stale popcorn at home.

By Cameron Mellin


Photo Courtesy of Christopher Banks. (MetroStage)

“The Letters,” MetroStage

Two characters. One-act. No intermission.

Deep in Stalin’s Soviet Russia, a cat-and-mouse game plays out between a man known as the Director and Anna, an editor responsible for the censoring of esteemed Russian artwork.

Pitting actors Susan Lynskey and Michael Russotto against one another, “The Letters” has two characters trading jabs of deceit and manipulation in a 75-minute, high-stakes sprint. Under Soviet order, Russian artistry deemed immoral is destroyed, including the letters of famed composer Tchaikovsky. However Anna (Susan Lynskey) has other ideas and hides away copies of the explicit material while her adversary, actor Michael Russotto’s Director, attempts to lure her into confession with promises of promotion and intimidation.   

The show’s set design is simple, the concept just the same, yet the performances are anything but. MetroStage’s production puts two seasoned professionals’ chemistry and talent on full display so best to buckle up and enjoy the ride on Old Town Alexandria’s north end.

On stage: Through June 15 Tickets: $50-$55, Wednesday nights include post-performance talkbacks. MetroStage: 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria    703-548-9044


“A Tale of Two Cities,” Synetic Theater 

Synetic Theater
Photo Courtesy of Koko Lanham

A company known for its productions’ physical spectacle, Synetic has always steered clear of the ordinary.

Set against the sweep of the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” is as dark as it is classic. However Synetic’s adaptation, in their patented fashion, is far from the original as director Serge Seiden tasks actor Alex Mills with the one-man performance of classic “Cities”characters ranging from Madame DeFarge to Charles Darnay

Mills, a Helen Hayes Award winner, begins the production as Jerry, an aspiring 1980s drag queen who soon discovers a crying baby at his doorstep. In an attempt to quell the child’s cries, Jerry enacts an assortment of Dickens’ characters, adding a twist of ’80s culture and lifestyle to the show’s set and seamlessly meshing the novel’s storyline with the flamboyance of the decade’s music and drag. 

Housed in the Crystal City Underground, Synetic has been named one of the world’s 13 most innovative physical theaters by Backstage.com and has become a beacon of high-octane movement performance in Virginia.

On stage: Through June 21 Tickets: synetictheater.org/ Group Discounts Available Crystal City Shops: 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington 866-811-4111


“Cabaret,Signature Theatre 

“Leave your troubles …outside! So life is disappointing? …Forget it! In here, life is beautiful.”  Those words courtesy of Berlin’s naughtiest nightclub emcee, played by Broadway star Wesley Taylor, are a proper welcome into the world of Signature Theatre’s sultry, powerful and downright sexy musical: “Cabaret.” The Broadway classic is now reanimated with all the sex appeal and horror missing in past renditions. Under Matthew Gardiner’s daring direction, the flair and fire of the “Cabaret” characters is fueled while pervasive themes of morality and self-expression underlie each scene. 

Signature Theatre
Photo courtesy of Margot Schulman (Signature Theatre)

You’ll find Signature’s MAX theater, an intimate thrust stage with audience members on either side of the performers, transplanted into the underbelly of Weimar-era Germany. Adorned with all the fixtures of a swanky 1930s European establishment, the Kit-Kat Club not only accepts lewd behavior—it’s encouraged. The orchestra in full drag makeup, the walls are dotted with sullied mirrors, and the characters are in the true S&M spirit. Gardiner’s “Cabaret” is a wicked experience that cannot help but encompass its audience in the show’s debauchery. That is until a villainous aurora is felt from outside the club’s walls, where a political faction on the rise and spreading hate throughout the Deutschland is shutting down the party in prewar Berlin. 

A Tony Award-winner for best regional theater, Signature is the focal point of south Arlington’s art scene. The theater’s Shirlington Village location makes dinner and a show easy with restaurant options from the cabin-style CopperWood Tavern to the chic Carlyle.

On stage: Through June 28 Tickets: signature-theatre.org/tickets Discounts for students/groups. The Village at Shirlington: 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington 703-820-9771 


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