D.C. historian and author John Muller is resurrecting — for one night only — the colloquially inspired show centered around the late Mayor Marion Barry as a final tip of the hat to the political icon.
The revived “Mayor For Life: The Untold Story” is scheduled to be performed twice on Dec. 15 (6:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.) at the Anascostia Playhouse at 2020 Shannon Place SE. The shows, which Muller expects should accommodate between 100 and 140 patrons per seating, are pay-what-you-can and first-come, first-served. Muller said he wrote the original play back in 2007 to answer the call put out by the Bowie State University theater department for some fresh, community-related material.
According to Muller, the exchange that immediately popped into his head was that of seeing Henry Hackney, a homeless gentleman Muller had gotten to know while he was still working at Starbucks, stopping MSNBC personality Chris Matthews on the street in 2003 to dish about Barry’s imminent return to the Ward 8 seat the local leader had held a decade earlier.
“He had a little poem he would recite to the baristas to get free coffee,” Muller said of Hackney’s charming ways.
More importantly, Hackney considered himself the absolute authority on street news — which is why Muller transformed him into “Ezekiel,” the yarn-spinning Street Sense hawker who guides the audience through the Barry retrospective.
“It’s really the folklore of Marion Barry,” Muller said. The original play debuted at The Kennedy Center, and was then run through once more a few weeks later that same summer at Bowie State University.
Muller has since updated the show (and nearly doubled its run time to around 35-40 minutes) by cribbing together anecdotes about the colorful pol with actual conversations he collected while covering the man for the Washington Times and other outlets.
“People compare him to Bill Clinton. He connected with people,” Muller said of Barry’s magnetic personality. “The city will never again see anyone as universally beloved.”
Barry’s influence was so profound, Muller contends, that Ward 8 residents are worried about what will happen absent their “protector.”
“There is a great level of uncertainty in the community,” he said.
Muller said original director Renee’ L. Charlow and lead actor Elliot C. Moffitt are returning for the updated show. And while he mainly dusted it off just to say goodbye to the electrifying pol — “This is my own little eulogy to Marion Barry,” he said — Muller appears willing to entertain the notion of keeping the tribute bandwagon rolling.
“I have no plan for the play after this. But I’m fully open to any collaborations,” he said.
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