Political theater and Elizabethan comedy collide tonight in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual “Will on the Hill” performance.
More than 15 Members of Congress will join notable journalists, including NPR’s Scott Simon and Susan Stamberg, the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and ABC News’ Rick Klein, onstage. Serving as this year’s professional acting anchors will be Richard Schiff, best known for his performance as Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing,” and Tony Award nominee Veanne Cox.
The show benefits the theater’s many educational programs across the Washington area, including Text Alive!, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s semester-long theater and literacy program.
The program teaches students to critically and creatively engage with Shakespeare specifically and literature generally.
The students work with their teachers to adapt and produce their own version of the Shakespearean play they’ve spent the semester studying. Each group’s work is performed in a final production where they compete to be the opening act for “Will on the Hill.”
“[Last year] one of the schools was in my Congressional district,” Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards (D) said.
Her district’s kids performed for the packed house.
“It was a great night out for them,” she said.
According to “Will on the Hill” playwright Peter Byrne, the script the adults will bring to life will be “very meta.”
Byrne said he wrote this year’s theatrical treatment, “Speak the Speech, I Pray You,” after five years of watching organizers and the director of “Will on the Hill” bring together amazing performances after just one day of rehearsal and with last-minute adjustments to the production and script.
This year the play is about a fictional producer, a fictional director and the performers who are trying to pull off a charity performance of “Romeo and Juliet.”
“They only have the one hour to do it,” Byrne said.
And, spoiler alert, somehow the pack of zany theatrical characters manage to pull it off, while cleverly tossing off timely political quips.
“I will say that the people in the play are not nearly as nice and sporting as the [evening’s] actual performers are,” Byrne said.
For fans of farce, this show will be analogous to “Noises Off.”
Still, however fun the plot may be, the evening’s draw is watching lawmakers — including Edwards, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) — stand and deliver lines and jokes pulled straight from headlines and political issues at the center of Washington’s consciousness.
To help stick the zingers, Byrne is getting an assist from the guys at West Wing Writers, a Democratic speechwriting firm with a penchant for political humor, for a second year in a row.
“I write the script in full,” Byrne said. “I hand it to them and, basically, they do a punch-up.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.