The Body’s Midnight: New Spring Play by Tira Palmquist Opens at Boston Court this April

By Hayden Dobb, Pasadena Weekly Staff Writer Apr 4, 2024

    The Body’s Midnight: New spring play opens at Boston Court this April
    “The Body’s Midnight” cast. (Makela Yepez/Submitted)

    A new play is coming to Boston Court this spring. “The Body’s Midnight,” written by playwright Tira Palmquist, is a co-production with IAMA Theatre Company. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky, “The Body’s Midnight” explores the idea of what it means to get lost in America — characters Anne and David are set to search for this meaning while they embark on their version of the perfect American road trip. With them is a map, a long list of sights to see and an itinerary that is planned to land them in St. Paul just in time for the birth of their first grandchild. Soon, however, their tidy plans are disrupted by a troubling diagnosis and the breathtaking, fleeting world around them. As the two are skewed from their initial path, they are met with an unavoidably messy and bewildering journey of their lives.

    “It’s beautiful and it’s incredibly funny,” Kubzansky said. “It’s a play about a rite of passage in some ways. It’s a play about different relationships regarding husbands and wives or parents and children. It covers the beautiful impermanence of our lives and the choices that we start to make when something in us feels threatened. I think everyone can relate to this, especially through what we all experienced with the pandemic — it’s really a play about what happens when something disrupts and limits your life.”

    The cast that will be acting out this grand story is Keliher Walsh, playing Anne; Jonathan Nichols-Navarro, playing David; Sonal Shah as Katie; and Ryan Garcia as Wolf. Before these characters were conceptualized, an acting friend of Palmquist noted that at the peak of her talent in her career, it was becoming harder for her to find roles in theater due to the lack of middle-aged and older women in plays.

    “I accepted the challenge, and know that there are things I’m really interested in as a playwright — one of those is the stories I choose to tell. I want to be mindful of the stories and represent all ages in theater, and to mostly represent women without the ties to being a mother or caregiver, showing that side of womanhood is important to me,” Palmquist said.

    Another aspect to “The Body’s Midnight” is Palmquist’s nod to the good, stable marriage that is showcased in the play, juxtaposing broken relationships that are usually told in the industry.

    From her home state of Minnesota, Palmquist also finds joy in writing stories involving the state, along with highlighting the sense of adventure shared throughout the country.

    “This intensely theatrical and wondrously strange piece leans into the visually arresting and textually rich — it’s what IAMA Theater Company and Boston Court values in new playwriting. ‘The Body’s Midnight’ shows the best and worst parts of a road trip experience, and the most interesting characters are met along the way. It’s a great performance on how vast and odd it can all be,” Kubzansky added.

    If Palmquist had to sum up “The Body’s Midnight” in three words, they would be “discovery, bravery, legacy.”

    Palmquist is known for her writing that merges the poetic, personal and political. Her most produced play, “Two Degrees,” was produced by places like the Tesseract Theater in St. Louis and Prime Productions at the Guthrie, after its premier at the Denver Center. As an established playwright, her work “The Way North” was a finalist for the O’Neill, an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Kilroys List and was featured in the 2019 Ashland New Plays Festival.

    Tickets for the preview shows from April 18 to April 26 cost between $19 to $39 as the play is honed, and tickets through opening night to the play’s close from April 27 to May 26 cost between $24 to $59. Please view the Boston Court website for ticket price details.

    With special events surrounding specific showings of “The Body’s Midnight,” guests can expect pre- and post-show illuminations following themes of the play or examining closely at how the play came to be. Special events include an art reception, playwriting conversations with Palmquist, ASL interpreted performances, Mother’s Day celebrations and more.

    For more information on show details, ticket prices and before and after show events, visit

    “The Body’s Midnight”
    WHEN: April 18 to May 26
    WHERE: Boston Court Pasadena, 70 N. Mentor Avenue, Pasadena
    COST: Tickets start at $19

    Washington National Opera renews commitment to future of American opera

    A three-character opera lasting 20 minutes is not a vast canvas, and it turns out that less can be more in a mini-opera. The most successful of the three new works, Forever by Elizabeth Gartman, was also the most frivolous, at least on the surface. Set to a libretto by Melisa Tien, it featured two PFAS chemical molecules (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, colloquially known as “forever chemicals”) in a post-apocalyptic sludge long after humans are extinct and then making an unexpected bond with a frisky tardigrade (the resilient micro-animal sometimes called a “water bear”).

    By Charles T. Downey for the Washington Classical Review


    Sahel Salam, Teresa Perrotta, and Cecelia McKinley performed in Elizabeth Gartman’s Forever for Washington National Opera Friday night. (Photo: Bronwen Sharp)

    Washington National Opera earns its middle name every time it mounts an American opera. The company’s American Opera Initiative bears fruit each year with the world premiere of three 20-minute operas by rising composers and librettists. Now in its 11th season, the program presented the newest trio of works Friday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

    A panel of mentors guides the three librettist-composer pairs through the development and completion of each opera. Christopher Cano, who succeeded Robert Ainsley as director of WNO’s Cafritz Young Artists and AOI at the start of last season, introduced the evening. This year, short videos preceded each work, showing the rehearsal process and featuring the thoughts of the creators and their interpreters, who are all Cafritz Young Artists.

    A three-character opera lasting 20 minutes is not a vast canvas, and it turns out that less can be more in a mini-opera. The most successful of the three new works, Forever by Elizabeth Gartman, was also the most frivolous, at least on the surface. Set to a libretto by Melisa Tien, it featured two PFAS chemical molecules (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, colloquially known as “forever chemicals”) in a post-apocalyptic sludge long after humans are extinct and then making an unexpected bond with a frisky tardigrade (the resilient micro-animal sometimes called a “water bear”).

    Soprano Teresa Perrotta, who was one of the vocal highlights of last year’s Grounded, displayed remarkable power, agility, and dramatic presence as PFAS 1, outshone only in comic exuberance by tenor Sahel Salam as PFAS 2. Cecelia McKinley plied her robust contralto to make a surprisingly alluring Tardigrade, costumed in a puffy coat with many sleeves and hands (costumes designed by Timm Burrow).

    The silliness of the action (with a climax including the loud singing of the word “Polyamory!”) did not diminish the heavy underlying issue, climate change and plastic pollution. Tien’s libretto provoked a lot of laughter in the audience, for example, in the disparate origins of the two PFAS molecules (one from a luxury watch band and the other a lowly fast-food wrapper). Gartman’s inventive score featured the repeated crunching of plastic objects by the percussionist, a gesture echoed at the end when the two PFAS singers endlessly twisted plastic bottles.

    Overly earnest seriousness weighed down both of the other works a bit, confronting issues that probably need more than twenty minutes to handle adequately. Sam Norman’s libretto for Hairpiece dealt with a wigmaker named Esther, who agrees to help Ari, a young trans woman, acquire a new wig that will make her feel more feminine. The issue seemed particularly relevant to the composer, Joy Redmond, herself a trans woman.

    Tiffany Choe’s pliant soprano suited the feisty Esther, who seemed to be the focus of the opera until Ari arrived. Tenor Jonathan Pierce Rhodes delivered a sympathetic and nuanced interpretation of Ari, extending the dramatic range he has already shown in Blue and The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson last year. The crisis of the story is that Ari, dressed in false breasts and a champagne pink fright wig, was mistaken for a drag queen by a man named Gale, played with otherwise affable qualities by baritone Justin Burgess.


    Jonathan Pierce Rhodes (Ari) and Justin Burgess (Gale) in Joy Redmond’s Hairpiece for Washington National Opera (Photo: Bronwen Sharp)

    While Redmond’s musical style tended toward the chaotic, in a score overstuffed with a panoply of musical styles, Laura Jobin-Acosta hewed to the plain and staid in her contribution, called A Way Forward. The libretto by José Alba Rodríguez centered on three generations of an immigrant Mexican family and its bakery: a conservative grandmother who wants to preserve traditions, a son who wants to modernize the business, and a Gen Z granddaughter who finds a way to satisfy both sides, somewhat predictably, by manipulating social media.

    The refulgent mezzo-soprano Winona Martin, who made an impression during an earlier apprenticeship at Wolf Trap Opera, anchored the piece as the stiff-necked abuela, Helena. Bass Sergio Martínez gave a potent rendition of Gabriel’s sober aria (“I’m the son”), but soprano Kresley Figueroa, while dramatically convincing, sounded pinched and thin in the upper reaches as the young Julia.

    Conductor David Bloom made an auspicious WNO debut at the podium, ably managing both the thirteen-person chamber orchestra, spread out unevenly at the back of the stage, and the singers. Director Chloe Treat, also in her company debut, suggested the three settings with a smattering of objects and set pieces. The most inventive semi-staging came in Forever, centered on three poles and some plastic cartons for the PFAS chemicals to dart around in. A large mirror propped up to one side of the stage evoked the pool of mercury where the Tardigrade swam, grinning like a dystopian Cheshire Cat.

    WNO will not return to the Kennedy Center Opera House until its production of Puccini’s Turandot, May 11 to 25.

    THE HAPPIEST MAN ON EARTH by Mark St. Germain Wins a Berkie

    Playwright Mark St. Germain
    Kenneth Tigar as Eddie Jaku

    The seventh annual Berkshire Theatre Critics Association Awards, known as the Berkies took place this week, where a total of 27 awards in 22 categories were presented for shows that were produced between Oct. 1, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2023 at theaters in and around the Berkshires.

    The Sally and Robert Sugarman Award for a world premiere of a new play or musical was presented to playwright Mark St. Germain for The Happiest Man on Earth, produced by Barrington Stage Company. Kenneth Tigar’s performance in St. Germain’s play as concentration camp survivor Eddie Jaku earned him the award for outstanding solo performance.

    Winners were announced Monday, Nov. 13, in ceremonies at Zion Lutheran Church on First Street, hosted by BTCA president J. Peter Bergman and Macey Levin.

    In a new D.C. play, Lincoln’s head goes missing. Cue the laugh track.

    ‘Monumental Travesties’ at Mosaic Theater Company makes the vandalism of a controversial statue a source of comedy

    Review by Peter Marks for The Washington Post

    From left, Louis E. Davis, Jonathan Feuer and Renee Elizabeth Wilson in the world premiere of Psalmayene 24’s “Monumental Travesties,” by Mosaic Theater Company. (Chris Banks)

    What says ally-ship quite like a White man with Black Lives Matter emblazoned on his tighty whities? It’s a question you’ve probably never thought of asking. But playwright Psalmayene 24 nevertheless seeks to answer it — er, cheekily — in “Monumental Travesties,” the entertainingly transgressive comedy getting a world premiere by D.C.’s Mosaic Theater Company.

    Psalmayene 24 (nee Gregory Morrison) has written an absurdist three-character satire poking fun at all the pieties about race, especially as espoused by White liberals looking for absolution from their Black friends and associates. The subject is as ripe for ribbing today as was sending up Archie Bunker’s bigotry on “All in the Family” in the 1970s. Some of Psalmayene’s plot contrivances, in fact, reflect the blatantly cringe-making pivots of vintage sitcoms.

    But the conventions of bygone TV comedy provide a surprisingly safe space for a subject around which thoughtful people still tread lightly (even if Psalmayene and Reginald L. Douglas, his skillful director at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, might rethink the 90-minute play’s ending, which lands with a confusing thud).

    “I grew up in a house that used to be a stop on the Underground Railroad!” protests Jonathan Feuer’s Adam, the overbearing White neighbor desperate to establish his worthiness to the Black couple (Louis E. Davis and Renee Elizabeth Wilson) next door. It is in the becoming D.C. home of Davis’s Chance and Wilson’s Brenda — brightly rendered by set designer Andrew R. Cohen — that “Monumental Travesties” takes place. And that’s where the story begins when Chance, a local activist/performance artist, bursts in the front door, bearing the head of Abraham Lincoln.

    A real-life controversy inspires the mechanics of “Monumental Travesties”: Chance has severed Lincoln’s head from the Emancipation Statue in D.C.’s Lincoln Park, a monument dedicated in 1876 that in recent years has been decried as a humiliating depiction of White savior mentality. (Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate in Congress, has introduced legislation to have it removed.) The statue features a godlike Lincoln astride a kneeling, formerly enslaved man in a loincloth — his servile gratitude could not be more apparent.

    Renee Elizabeth Wilson and Louis E. Davis in Mosaic Theater Company’s “Monumental Travesties,” directed by Reginald L. Douglas. (Chris Banks)

    The giant head, by props designer Deb Thomas, sits on Chance and Brenda’s coffee table like an emblem of history’s ossified portrait of slavery from a White perspective; Chance’s vandalism is part of his campaign to “deconstruct symbols of White supremacy.” At one point, he enlists the compliant Adam in reversing the postures of the statue, having Adam prostrate himself before Chance in his living room. “So this is what it feels like, huh,” Chance remarks, “being White in America?”

    The sharpest junctures of “Monumental Travesties” involve Chance and Brenda bearing witness to Adam’s outrageously self-serving platitudes. He’s so evolved, he insists, that he considers himself “un-White,” whatever that means, and so attuned to the injustices against people of color that he can recite from memory testaments to the indigenous Anacostan people on whose land his pricey townhouse sits. Chance and Brenda are not, for their part, above using Black victimhood to gain social and economic advantage: Brenda, for instance, concocts for Adam a shameful lie about a relative’s murder to explain the money she got to buy the house. (The truth, Psalmayene 24 implies, would be harder for a White person to believe.)

    What’s also implicit in “Monumental Travesties” is the notion that conscientious people both Black and White still have to “act” for each other, that what they say in each other’s presence is a varnished version of what they really think. (Although the dramatist also points out that Brenda and Chance harbor problems and secrets, too, that they’re not willing to confront.) Chance’s absconding with Lincoln’s detached head is, in a sense, a cut to the chase about race: Talk isn’t good enough, he’s declaring, not even about the father of emancipation. Only action matters.

    Davis, Wilson and Feuer demonstrate their acumen concerning broad comedy; their roles are archetypes, somewhat short of three dimensions, much the way sitcom characters are defined by a single trait recycled in one episode after another. Costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka gives pleasing pizazz to Brenda’s outfits, particularly the historic garb devised for the play’s final movement, when Brenda introduces another factual detail that complicates Chance’s facile rationale for his crime.

    Under Douglas’s guidance, the actors amiably navigate the plot turns, which become ever crazier. The dramatist packs in so many curveballs that some are inevitably going to be wild pitches. (“Monumental Travesties” has to be the first play to use the brain fog resulting from long covid as a pivotal narrative point.) But even with some bumps, Psalmayene has paved a way for comedy to be another dramatic tool for understanding.

    Monumental Travesties, by Psalmayene 24. Directed by Reginald L. Douglas. Set, Andrew R. Cohen; lighting, Alberto Segarra; costumes, Moyenda Kulemeka; sound Nick “the 1da” Hernandez. About 90 minutes. Through Oct. 8 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.

    A winning new opera grows in Brooklyn Commons

    By George Grella for New York Classical Review

    On Site Opera presented the world premiere of Lisa DeSpain’s Song of the Nightingale Friday in Brooklyn Commons. Pictured are Bernard Holcomb (The Curator), Hannah Cho (The Nightingale) and Chrystal E. Williams (The Collector). Photo: Fadi Kheir/Brookfield Properties

    The grandiosity of opera culture—the stars, the spectacle, the stage machinery—often obscures the form itself, which depends on the fine details of things like harmony, dynamics, and individual performances to succeed. 

    The great value in small opera companies like On Site Opera is in their smaller scale, and how chamber sized productions are all about intimate details and nuances. With On Site Opera, those all take on a greater significance because the company’s purpose is not to bring audiences into an opera house, but to bring opera to people, wherever they might be able to stage a performance. 

    On Site got their new season started early Friday afternoon in just such a fashion: their latest production, the world premiere of Lisa DeSpain’s Song of the Nightingale, debuted in the outdoor public courtyard at Brooklyn Commons, the first in a series of free performances open to the public (and the elements). The opera was commissioned and produced by On Site Opera and Brookfield Properties Arts & Culture.

    The results were impressive all around. DeSpain’s opera is a graceful, elegantly crafted piece for a cast of five singers, a modern fairy tale about the collision between contemporary materialism and nature. It bears no relation to Stravinsky’s Chant du Rossignol other than sharing the songbird as a subject and being full of melodies. Outdoor performances are already difficult, so the energy, concentration, and skill of the singers when it was 89º (with dense humidity), and the five-piece ensemble conducted by Geoffrey McDonald was near unbelievable.

    The opera, with a libretto by Melisa Tien, opens with The Collector (mezzo Chrystal E. Williams) and The Curator (tenor Bernard Holcomb), discussing her desires. She relies on him for taste, he relies on her for money—the sweetness of the music belies their toxic codependency. The music is highly lyrical throughout, so even when the Williams sang lines like “Everything wants to be gathered,” the sound of it makes her nearly sympathetic.

    But this is a fairy tale, after all. The two head out to the woods in search of a “famous performer,” enchanted by the sounds of nature. They run into the Frog (soprano Nicole Haslett, in costume designer Kara Harmon’s smart outfit of green hiking vest and backpack canteen) and the Cow (bass-baritone Eliam Ramos), and eventually find The Nightingale (soprano Hannah Cho). They convince the Nightingale to come to the Collector’s home as a featured performer. As beautifully as she sings—and Cho was ringing and expressive in the character’s two enchanting arias—the city is not for her.

    She is rescued by Frog and Cow, the former disguising herself as a mechanical, singing statue, who with the press of a button delivers “I sing for you / I sing for me / I sing this tune / For all eternity.” This ditty is one of the subtle strengths of the opera, it’s pretty but it eventually, and convincingly, grows jejune for the Collector, who realizes the emptiness of her pursuit (the Curator himself leaves the city for the woods, and happiness).

    Photo: Fadi Kheir

    DeSpain’s new opera hit all the marks with a fine shape and pace, and a chorus at the end that wrapped it all up in satisfying fashion. Performing in the round, all the singers were terrific, projecting through the elements via Beth Lake’s fine sound design, with excellent articulation and an unflagging feeling of fun and joy. This all happens at close quarters, and director Katherine M. Carter had the cast moving fluidly about and around the crushed gravel circle and the central tree (McDonald himself was peeking around the trees to throw cues to the singers).

    This was a winning combination of a score that was a pleasure because of its modesty and direct communication, a skillful cast that brought out every last bit of feeling and loveliness in the music, and On Site Opera’s intelligence, flexibility, and commitment to engage the public.

    Song of the Nightingale will be repeated 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Brooklyn Commons; September 21-23 at Manhattan West; and September 28-30 at Brookfield Place.