Politicians Ponder, ‘What’s in the Name?’

Posted May 4, 2007 at 4:33pm

Politics takes a dramatic turn tonight for Will on the Hill, the annual event that puts some of Washington, D.C.’s famous figures onstage.

The event, presented by the Shakespeare Theater Co., will feature Members of Congress, government officials and media personalities in the original play, “What’s in the Name?” Inspired by “Romeo and Juliet,” the play weaves scenes from the classic work with themes from contemporary politics.

Playwright Norman Allen said the play centers on an acting class where Washington’s VIPs are students learning “Romeo and Juliet.” He said the characters debate on male and female power while poking fun at Congress and the media.

“The real point is for everyone in the audience to have a great time, poke fun at each other and laugh together,” Allen said.

Those performing include Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) as well as Ambassadors Nancy Brinker and Stuart Holliday and journalists Nina Totenberg and Charles Krauthammer.

The play also aims to amuse the audience by highlighting rivalries in politics.

“The Democrats take a few blows, the Republicans take a few blows,” Allen said. “It’s an equal opportunity comedy.”

Congressional nights at the Shakespeare Theater, where Members of Congress attend a night of performances, have been around for decades, corporate giving manager Winnie Harrington said. But the current format for “Will on the Hill,” where luminaries perform an original play, began in 2004.

This year’s event will have 13 famous names on the playbill, the largest number of participants in the event’s history.

“That’s what makes this year a much more Member-focused program,” Harrington said.

So when do these famous participants find the time to be actors and actresses while running Congress, reporting and representing the country?

Participants received the script last week and memorize their lines on their own. Because of busy schedules, the entire cast rehearses together just once before the actual show.

“It’s a lot of schedules to accommodate,” Harrington said. “But the last two years were quite successful … the cast always does a great job of pulling it off.”

Proceeds from “Will on the Hill” benefit the Shakespeare Theater Co.’s artistic and educational community outreach programs.

Tickets are $250 each. The event has raised about $200,000, which is “more than twice” the amount of last year’s proceeds, Harrington said.

“We have the unique position of being a classical theater in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Politics is such a central element [in D.C.] so this is a chance to intertwine Shakespeare and the politics going on in the city.”