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Learning Life Lessons in ‘Teenage Dick’

Woolly Mammoth Season Opener Marks a New Spin on Shakespeare

Washington, D.C.’s regional theater season this year is highlighted by Woolly Mammoth’s production of “Teenage Dick,” based on Shakespeare’s “Richard III.”

Before the play began, Maria Manuela Goyanes, Woolly Mammoth’s artistic director, appeared on stage enthusiastically welcoming the audience to this first production in the theater’s 2021-2022 season.

“This is a glorious moment,” said Goyanes. She said about playwright Mike Lew and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, “I have loved this play from the moment I read it. Thank you for trusting that we were going to make this happen.”

After the opening scene of Teenage Dick, I was “all in.” The audience experienced a junior year in high school where students sought power by manipulation, bribery, lying, conspiracy and peer pressure rooted in jealousy.

Gregg Mozgala portrays Richard Gloucester, born with cerebral palsy. He has always been treated as “less than.” Richard wants to be accepted as equal where his awkward movements are ignored. He aspires to be senior class president, knowing that he has a lot more to offer than Eddie Ivy, the jock character and election opponent played by Louis Reyes McWilliams.

Richard could be considered the “lead” character in this production, but all of the actors are “co-leads” because they each play important pieces to this dramatic puzzle sprinkled with pauses of comic relief.

A Story that Traces Many Paths

The talented ensemble includes Shannon DeVido as Barbara “Buck” Buckingham, who on the surface appears to have a lot in common with her friend and classmate Richard. Buck has an affliction that requires a wheelchair. Throughout Teenage Dick, the audience sees she has very little in common with Richard. What she does have is a heightened sense of awareness and a sharp wit. She is the conscience of her classmates.

Portland Thomas portrays the highly ambitious Clarissa Duke who also desires to be senior class president. She overplays the religious card in a misguided rationale for equal consideration.

Emily Townley is Elizabeth York, the teacher who has her hands full with trying to inspire her students, manage senior class elections while keeping her memories of her own youthful exuberance in check.

Then there is Zurin Villanueva portraying Anne Margaret, the girl that all the guys lust after. A talented dancer who has dreams of attending college in New York, she guards her feelings that are eventually broken down by Richard.

Unexpected Developments

The play’s diverse characters reflect the interplay between whimsy, hip hop, dancing, raw emotions and deep exploration. Selfish decisions put characters in a freefall towards tragedy. After all, many of Shakespeare’s plays are called tragedies. This tragedy has several surprises that no one saw coming. In the end, I said to myself, “That was a lot!”

Teenage Dick was 10 years in the making. Written by Mike Lew and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the two met when they were college interns. They spoke to the audience at the conclusion of the play.

“Not every theater was able to honor their commitment,” said Lew about how the pandemic devastated the arts community. “I am so truly grateful.”

“This is personally a beautiful evening for me,” said von Stuelpnagel. He continued to speak about working with Lew and also his former college roommate cast member Gregg Mozgala who played Richard. “Those kinds of relationships and the close partnerships that you can have are incredibly valuable. It is exactly what I felt when I walked through the doors of this theater.”

Teenage Dick continues at Woolly Mammoth until Oct. 17, 2021. All D.C. area theaters are following a strict COVID-19 policy. Check the website for details. Visit https://www.woollymammoth.net for ticket information.

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