On Wednesday, July 13, I happily cried on and off for three hours.
It wasn’t because I was rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in preparation for the release of the final installment in the juggernaut movie series. No, I was far from the land of wizards and the human “muggles” who love them.
I was also far away from Mount Washington, although it was at the forefront of my mind as I sniffed and snuffled in Washington.
I was at the newly revitalized Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater to see the return engagement of Oklahoma!, visionary Artistic Director Molly Smith’s critically acclaimed, award-winning revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic.
Smith and her talented, creative team have breathed fresh life into the classic; the Arena Stage production is sassy, engaging, high-energy fun--a must-see if your summer and fall travels take you to the nation’s capitol.
I had a double motivation to show up at the Arena Stage, though. June Schreiner, who at the tender age of 16 debuted the role of Ado Annie in last fall’s sold-out inaugural production, spent her early childhood in Mount Washington--a good chunk of it at my house along with her brother, Quinn.
I still tease her about tiptoeing down my hallway in an attempt to sneak scissors to pals during a play date. She happened to be wearing a devil costume at the time and even as a child; she sold the role.
To a man and a woman, Oklahoma!'s multi-ethnic cast, one of Smith’s innovative choices when restaging the musical, also impressively delivers. But June has that “wow” factor that makes it hard to take your eyes off her, and she’s received enough plaudits, including a glowing write-up from The Washington Post, to back up the educated, but inescapably biased opinion of this family friend.
Click here to see the Post's glowing review of Schreiner's performance.
I was expecting June to be good. I wasn’t expecting my tears. But I dribbled like a leaky faucet as multi-threat June sang, danced, fought, kissed, glared, hugged, lassoed, stomped and biked all over the Arena’s theater-in-the-round stage.
I thought that perhaps I was just super-simpatico that night with June who, like me, cries when she’s happy, sad, and in-between. (We theorize that perhaps she inherited my crying gene by osmosis.)
A few days later, however, I read New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis’s review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. In her review, Dargis confesses that the movie made her cry, perhaps, as she says, because “it’s invariably poignant watching children become adults.”
Perhaps I cried because June, now 17, is undeniably a Young Adult, albeit one who is as absolutely free of self consciousness and as full of joy as can be. It’s possible that my tears were partially due to Oklahoma!’s exuberant story of a still-raw territory’s often-chaotic struggle to statehood.
Maybe it was also the soaring architecture of the revamped Arena Stage at Mead Center for American Theater--part of its inspiring revitalization of the Southwestern D.C. waterfront and its commitment to supporting American theater while serving a community as diverse as its cast.
I’m sure all those elements were jumbled together as I wept. Because of course, it’s not just the transformation of children that is poignant, it’s change in general.
Still, watching the teenage June having the time of her life on stage, I couldn’t help but remember childhood days on "the Hill" in Mount Washington.
I recalled the intense, made-up adventures at Carlin G. Smith, the uphill walks to the green gardens of the , the excursions during the heat of summer to the cool dimness of the , the swim parties with pool noodles and zinc-oxided noses, the forts, the play sheds and the tree houses.
My celebration of and admiration for Mount Washington's talented teenagers and newly minted adults, these young people who give me such hope for the future, are mixed with my memories of the past.
Because wherever else these once-children have gone, a part of their bright, young spirits will always be here on the Hill.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! runs through Oct. 2 in the Fichandler Stage at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington DC 20024. Tickets may be purchased online at www.arenastage.org, by phone at 202-488-3300 or at the Sales Office at 1101 6th St., SW, D.C.