Metro Weekly

The Reading Room Play Festival: Folger Theatre

The Folger presents a week of unique staged readings, including 'Our Verse in Time to Come.'

Folger - Malik Work_Thumbnail-Enhanced
Folger: Malik Work

This fall serves as an occasion for celebration at the Folger Shakespeare Library, as the institution returns to its historic building after an extensive, multi-year renovation.

Exact dates have not yet been announced for the reopening, and the Folger Theatre has also not yet announced its next season of programming starting in the fall.

Presumably the fall slate at Folger will include activities celebrating the November anniversary of the First Folio, given that the library bills itself as “home to the world’s largest collection of First Folios” — counting 82 of the 235 known copies to have survived out of a total of 750 originally published.

The remainder of the Folger Theatre’s current season, however, focuses on presenting a slate of new works, all inspired in some form or fashion by the Bard — including one commissioned by Folger specifically to commemorate the First Folio’s 400th anniversary.

This play, Our Verse in Time to Come, is being created by Malik Work and Karen Ann Daniels, the library’s director of programming and the theatre’s artistic director, and will be given a world-premiere run that’ll end the season in late March. Meanwhile, a sneak peek into the work will be offered next weekend at one of four new works in development presented as part of the “Reading Room.”

The lineup for this festival of staged readings, in chronological order, starts with a “radical bilingual reimagining” of Hamlet by Reynaldo Piniella and Emily Lyon in which the title character is a Black, Latinx prince in present-day New York City (1/19, at 7:30 p.m.).

It’s followed by Our Verse in Time to Come, a Shakespeare-inspired work that centers on an aging emcee diagnosed with early-onset dementia who is trying to reconnect with his estranged children before it’s too late (1/20, at 7:30 p.m.).

Next is Julius X, an intermixing of the lives of Caesar and Malcom X as part of a re-envisioning of Julius Caesar with a new perspective that also weaves in African mythology and performance poetry from journalist and writer Al Letson of NPR’s Reveal show and podcast (1/21, 2 p.m.).

Folger - Lauren Gunderson Photo-Enhanced
Folger: Lauren Gunderson

And finally, A Room in the Castle by Lauren Gunderson (The Book of Will) and directed by transgender theater artist and writer Eddie DeHais rebrands the stories of the women of Hamlet into “a mediation on women helping women, what mothering a madman could mean, and what responsibility generations of feminists have to one another” (1/21, 7:30 p.m.).

All readings and post-reading conversations with the playwrights, directors, and scholars will take place at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 E. Capitol St. NE. A pass is $25 for all four readings or $50 for an All-Access Pass including all special events.

The Reading Room festival will be immediately followed by a panel discussion exploring the ways in which Shakespeare’s works can serve as springboards for new expression by new creators, plus three teaching workshops inviting aspiring artists to create their own personal works with mentoring by teaching artists who are experts and practitioners in the field.

The “Works in Progress” programming series launches Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m., with the “Shakespeare as a Starting Point” panel discussion featuring poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, musician and songwriter Erin Frisby, playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings, and poet Kim Roberts.

The week concludes with a different artistic workshop each day, one focused on Playwriting led by Caleen Sinnette Jennings (1/25, or virtually over Zoom 1/26), another on Poetry with Teri Ellen Cross Davis and Kim Roberts serving as instructors (1/27, or virtually 1/25), and finally Songwriting led by Erin Frisby (1/26, or 1/27 virtually.). The series culminates with an in-person presentation of the pieces developed through the workshops on Sunday, Jan. 29.

All events start at 6:30 p.m., with in-person gatherings at the Hill Center, 921 Penn. Ave. SE. Registration is $50. Visit or call 202-544-7077.

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