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Cover illustration by Blair Kelly

In the late aughts, Terius Nash, aka The-Dream, was on top of his game. With Tricky Stewart, he was writing pop smashes like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” that may have been inspired by Prince, Atlanta hip-hop, and Timbaland, yet still seemed totally unique. On his own albums, songs like “Falsetto” and “Shawty Is a Ten” showed off his brash-yet-sensitive ladies’ man persona, and his gift for singing memorable hooks and hitting high notes. Lately, however, The-Dream has had less commercial success. He just released Genesis, a confounding, uneven 10-song video album based on his dreams, available only through music streaming service Tidal. It’s weird: Imagine an art film crossed with a Victoria’s Secret commercial filmed, in part, in an abandoned, deteriorating church with a burning cross, and The-Dream caked in chalky, white plaster. There’s no telling how this material will work live. Feb. 13 at The Howard Theatre. $25–$100. —Steve Kiviat

Laura Jane Grace

Even in Ancient Rome, Valentine’s Day sucked. Some scholars trace the origins of the holiday to a Roman celebration called Lupercalia, where instead of exchanging Hallmark cards and CVS chocolates, the men would strip naked, slaughter goats and dogs, and beat their female counterparts with the animals’ pelts. Romantic! So instead, opt out of Valentine’s Day’s gross past (and grossly capitalistic present) by spending it with Against Me! frontwoman and trans activist Laura Jane Grace in a synagogue. Grace brings her new outfit, the Devouring Mothers, to Sixth & I for a set of unplugged takes on Against Me’s blistering catalog, including 2014’s brilliantly titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues. We’re not gonna promise you that spending your V-Day with a “true trans soul rebel” will be more interesting than waiting for that table on 14th Street, but… yeah. Feb. 14 at Sixth & I. $20. —Maeve McDermott


“He’s like an inverse Bono,” critic Ben Ratliff wrote last year in describing how Protomartyr singer Joe Casey shoves and hollers through songs on The Agent Intellect, the Detroit band’s tense and noisy 2015 album. Onstage, Casey comes across as weirdly unimpressed; sometimes he’ll have a beer in his hand, but it’s never a prop. If there’s any release, it’s from his bandmates: Watching humans play these songs affirms the suspicion that there’s some ecstasy lurking beneath the post-punk din. When Protomartyr plays The Black Cat on Valentine’s Day, its racket will be preceded by a more obviously hot-shit band: D.C.’s Priests, whose singer, Katie Alice Greer, fully embraces the role of punk entertainer-agitator. And opening the night is local dance-music duo Protect-U, which complements Protomartyr in a more oblique way: It owes its soul to techno—another area where Detroiters inverted rock ’n’ roll expectations. Feb. 14 at The Black Cat. $15. —Joe Warminsky

Budapest Festival Orchestra

The National Symphony Orchestra’s announcement of the departure of Music Director Christoph Eschenbach and his replacement with Gianandrea Noseda earlier this year prompts daydreams of what could have been. Back in 2008, when the NSO hired Eschenbach, Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer was holding things down as principal conductor. Rumor then was that Fischer was the NSO’s first choice to lead the orchestra but turned them down. Despite being—nominally—an American orchestra, NSO loves its European conductors (Eschenbach is German; Noseda, Italian). Fischer would have likely been a good director—if not quite as high-profile as Eschenbach, perhaps more consistent. However, European conductors typically have greater control over their orchestras, running them like mini dictatorships, while American orchestras run on more of a consensus model, with conductors answering to presidents, boards of directors, and such. If true, it’s likely Fischer preferred his baby, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which he founded and could run as he saw fit. Over three decades, he grew BFO from a part-time thing to one of the best orchestras in the world, and its rare stateside performances are not to be missed. Feb. 15 at Kennedy Center Concert Hall. $60–$120. —Mike Paarlberg


What masked German house maestro Claptone hides with his anonymity, he more than makes up for with his beats, which occupy the space between classic house breaks and hip-hop’s energy. He’s a constant in the world of remix shows, and his work in everything from making edits of Wu-Tang Clan classics to creating masterful reinterpretations of tracks by Grammy-award winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter are exemplary. But it’s when he crafts originals like last year’s Charmer, or when he drops masterful mixes for BBC’s Radio 1, that his work truly soars to higher levels. Whatever it is he’s making, expect an ultimate club experience from a top-tier professional whenever he’s behind the decks. Feb. 21 at Soundcheck. $15.Marcus Dowling

András Schiff

Some pianists aim to dazzle audiences, while others just want to get the job done. If the spectrum runs from Lang Lang to Pollini, András Schiff is somewhere in between but also above. With soft hands and a delicate touch, Schiff is the master of subtlety. His interpretations of familiar, often-overplayed classics (he specializes in the Austrian and German canon) never fail to add some surprising nuance to something you’ve heard many times before. In his latest project, “The Last Sonatas,” he plays the final sonatas that four famous composers—Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert—composed before their deaths. Perhaps a late-career meditation on Schiff’s own mortality, it promises to be a thoughtful, and unassuming, interpretation by “the anti–Lang Lang.” Feb. 24 at Strathmore Music Center. $45–$85. —Mike Paarlberg

Ty Segall & The Muggers

For his newest album, Emotional Mugger, it seems Ty Segall wanted to see what would happen if he combined his characteristic garage/psychedelic/punk/metal sound with oddly sexualized symbols of childhood—like crying babies, dolls, and candy—and a weird, post-Internet pseudoscience he calls “emotional mugging.” The result is actually pretty interesting (and, as always, the music is top-notch). If you saw Segall on his Manipulator tour in 2014, you probably noticed his crazy space outfit and weird makeup, a la David Bowie. This time around, Segall takes the performance further, and in a completely different direction, creating a character named Sloppo, portrayed by Segall wearing a creepy baby mask. Whatever your opinion on the performance art aspects (which, granted, may need a few more years to develop into something profound), Segall continues to create some fantastic music. Feb. 25 at 9:30 Club. $25.Elena Goukassian

Downtown Boys

Since you’ve already broken all your New Year’s Resolutions, here’s a new one: Make it your goal to see Downtown Boys as many times as you can this year. Joining D.C.’s Homosuperior and noisy Pennsylvania punks Pissed Jeans on Black Cat’s mainstage, the self-described “bi bilingual political dance sax punk party from Providence” released its first 7-inch in 2014 on D.C’s Sister Polygon records. Its fiercely political, whirling-dervish punk earned breathless acclaim since. The band’s missives on racism, homophobia, and the prison-industrial complex are delivered in both English and Spanish by vocalist Victoria Ruiz, one of the most thrilling people making music today, full stop. Often when bands are hailed as “important” performers, it smacks of hyperbole—but look at the current Republican poll numbers and tell us its mission, to “scream at the top of our lungs that we are brown, we are smart,” isn’t vital in 2016. Feb. 26 at Black Cat. $15. —Maeve McDermott

“Swimming in Dark Waters: Other Voices of the American Experience”

One of the great appeals of Rhiannon Giddens is her depth of knowledge about American music. The Greensboro, N.C. singer, violinist, and banjo player sounds as comfortable faithfully performing blues and folk as she does R&B and gospel. She’s one of the most visible performers keeping African-American string and folk band music alive today. This makes it all the more exciting that George Washington University is bringing her together with songwriters Leyla McCalla and Bhi Bhiman for an evening celebrating the history of musicians of color’s protest and resistance. This is more than a history lesson. One listen to Giddens’ “Cry No More,” her response to the massacre at the AME Church in Charleston, and it’s clear that protest music isn’t an academic exercise—it’s a vital art that’s needed now as much as ever. Feb. 26 at Lisner Auditorium. $35. —Justin Weber

Kiran Ahluwalia

Kiran Ahluwalia’s music may be rooted in traditional ghazals and Punjabi songs from India, but she sings them with a twist. Ahluwalia’s band includes her Pakistani-American guitarist husband Rez Abbasi, but over the years she’s added collaborators ranging from Malian band Tinariwen to Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster, who all add their own distinct styles to her music. Thankfully, Ahluwalia—who was born in India, grew up in Canada, and now lives in New York—manages to mostly make such songs work without turning them into cliched world music mush. On her most recent album Sanata: Stillness, there are no prominent guests, but her husband plays some desert blues chords while Ahluwalia mesmerizes with her sultry timbre. March 4 at Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. Free. —Steve Kiviat

Gary Lucas’ Fleischerei

Best known for his noisy guitar playing with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley, Gary Lucas has also long been a fan of the Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop cartoons—which Max Fleischer created in the 1930s—and their hyperkinetic jazz-meets-klezmer-meets-Tin-Pan-Alley soundtracks. Along with trombonist Joe Fiedler, Lucas has created arrangements for a jazz band and singer/actress Sarah Stiles to accompany some of Fleischer’s classic animation. On Lucas’ album Music from Max Fleischer’s Cartoons, Stiles, for better or worse, perfectly captures ’30s actress Mae Questel’s squeaky, high-pitched rendition of Betty Boop’s signature phrases. But even if one finds that vocal style irritating, the exhilarating instrumentation and the joyously crazed antics of Popeye and others in these decidedly non-Disney efforts outweigh the sometimes shrill vocals. March 5 at AFI Silver Theatre. $28.75. —Steve Kiviat

All Dogs

One of the most prolific names in DIY is Maryn Jones, one-quarter of the folk-rock outfit Saintseneca and the bandleader of the rawer, noisier Columbus, Ohio quartet All Dogs. The latter was responsible for one of 2015’s most underappreciated records: the grungy yearning of Kicking Every Day, an album that’s made to be heard live in a crowded room. All Dogs is joined by Florist (who shares a label with yet another one of Jones’ projects, Yowler), a band that channels similar confessions of anxiety and heartbreak— or, y’know, “growing up”— with triple the claustrophobia, via spacey organs and vocalist/keyboardist Emily Sprague’s near-mumbled vocals. March 7 at Comet Ping Pong. $12. —Maeve McDermott

Cloud Rat

The last time Cloud Rat—the forward-thinking experimental grindcore band from Michigan—came to these parts, its furiously noisey set in the cramped basement of The Dougout attracted the neighbors. They didn’t come to complain and ask the band to turn it down; rather, they were so infatuated with the abrasive noise oozing from the basement that they had to see it for themselves. On its latest record, 2015’s Qliphoth, Madison Marshall’s guttural vocals may come off like an aural assault, but take a deeper listen and you’ll hear philosophical opining: “Sometimes I think of how hardly alive you are at all/ Dodging bullets. Dodging raindrops,” she wonders on “Udder Dust.” And later in the song: “How do I convince you I’m living?” It’s heavy stuff, but you wouldn’t hear that with the barrage of blast beats and walls of distortion she screams over. Live, the band performs with such ferocity, it’s as if each member is working out frustrations through the power of music, attempting to tear down the walls of wherever it is they’re playing. March 13 at The Pinch. $10. —Matt Cohen

GoldLink and Sango

Like a peanut butter and banana sandwich, the pairing of local rapper GoldLink and Seattle production wizard Sango may seem odd, but the Soulection Records–affiliated duo are redefining both underground and mainstream music. GoldLink’s latest album, And After That, We Didn’t Talk, pushed his pioneering future bounce sound even further, merging indie-leaning electronic with ultra-ubiquitous rap sensibilities. That’s a narrow space, and when it’s defined by Sango’s rap-meets-baile funk beats, it gets even smaller. Sango and GoldLink’s “Wassup”—a track that flips Timbaland and Magoo’s “Indian Flute” on its head entirely—is likely one of the most unique hip-hop tunes in the past few years. That’s reason enough to buy a ticket, but when you stay for everything else, you quickly realize you’re hearing the future of pop music. March 16 at 9:30 Club. $25. —Marcus Dowling

Anat Cohen

The clarinet, a founding instrument of the jazz tradition, was largely neglected after 1945, but it’s mounted a comeback in recent years. First came Don Byron, charging through every conceivable genre with ease; on his heels was Anat Cohen, the most visible in a trio of jazz-playing Israeli siblings. Interestingly, though, it was the New York-born Byron who made a splash exploring klezmer. That would have been the obvious move for Cohen, too, and she’s frequently asked about it, but it’s not the direction she chose. Instead, the clarinetist (and sometimes tenor saxophonist) chases two animals: aggressive, rhythmically challenging postmodern jazz, and lyrical (but equally rhythmic) Latin jazz. Recently that’s meant the Brazilian tradition: Cohen’s 2015 album, Luminosa, is a sumptuous, luminous collection of Brazilian standards and samba-inspired originals. Terrific as it is on record, though, it’s on the bandstand that she breathes real life into her music. March 24 at AMP by Strathmore. $40–$50. —Michael J. West

Basia Bulat

Basia Bulat has been on a gradual trajectory to pop stardom since 2007: She’s put out a record every three years since then, and her fourth full-length, Good Advice, will arrive in early February. She’s been shortlisted for Canada’s Polaris Prize twice, for her 2007 debut of bedroom folk, Oh, My Darling, and for 2013’s Tall Tall Shadow on which she began reaching for bigger melodies and catchier tunes. However, 2010’s Heart of My Own is her best. The urgent, rolling rhythms make it an invigorating stampede that invokes images of the great Canadian wilderness. The first singles for Good Advice hint that her new album will push further into pop music by leaving her usual autoharp behind for sparkling studio productions. Fans shouldn’t be worried: The new songs are still more Feist than they are FM pop. March 29 at Rock & Roll Hotel. $12–$14. —Justin Weber


Over the past six years, Gaithersburg-bred Logic evolved from a being a standout in the local hip-hop scene to a Def Jam Records signee with global fame in his sights. This spring, he’s back in his home area on the heels of last year’s The Incredible True Story, a sophomore album that he describes as being “a sci-fi epic” taking place 100 years in the future on a post-apocalyptic, uninhabitable Earth. Logic’s evolution is quite impressive, but what’s remained constant throughout his career is his gift of spitting rhymes with both speed and finesse. It’s only sharpened with age, and Logic’s fanbase is quite passionate in their support, a feeling that he gives back in full measure and adds to every hometown show. March 31 at Echostage. $43.45. —Marcus Dowling

Carl Craig

Detroit techno producer Carl Craig’s perpetual relevance may be tied to a blend of funk, jazz, classical, and underground house music, but there’s an overarching desire to explore the future. For more than 25 years, he’s excelled not just as Carl Craig but as aliases 69, BFC, C2, No Boundaries, Psyche, Paperclip People, Tres Demented, and Urban Tribe. But it’s in his time working as Innerzone Orchestra—when he released the track “Bug in the Bass Bin” in 1999— that he’s largely credited as heavily influencing the drum ’n’ bass genre. Now, in 2016, it’s entirely possible that a Carl Craig set will head in any number of mind-bending directions that traverse through the history of techno, as well as sounds far beyond modern comprehension. April 1 at Flash. $10–$15. —Marcus Dowling

Damaged City Fest

For the fourth year, Damaged City Fest will take over several venues—including the Black Cat and The Pinch—to celebrate hardcore punk. So far the lineup is 33 bands strong with more to be announced. Co-founders Nick Candela and Chris Moore are bringing in a pair of classic bands to headline: Japan’s Systematic Death, who have been razing venues since 1983 with unmatched speed and power, and San Francisco’s The Avengers, who helped bridge the gap in the late ’70s from The Ramones and Sex Pistols to ’80s hardcore. While the older acts may be the biggest draw, they’re also a gateway to introduce fans to the current punk landscape: France’s Youth Avoiders infuse memorable melodies into hardcore, and Philly’s Sheer Mag proves the sounds of ’70s classic rock have a place in punk. Damage City Fest is true to its roots: The festival is open to all ages and is made possible through a legion of volunteers. April 8–10. Ticket price TBA. —Justin Weber


“What is Melt-Banana?” That question is cheekily posed on the band’s website, probably for unassuming metalheads who may have come across a YouTube video of the band, or saw them opening for one of their favorite metal bands at some point. The simple answer: Melt-Banana is a band from Japan, whose core members are always singer Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata. But when you get into the nitty gritty, that question is a lot more complicated, because Melt-Banana is so much more than a band. Combining elements of grindcore, death metal, electronic, noise, and pop, Onuki and Agata create a style of music that’s both unparalleled and completely insane. Agata’s guitar screeches and squeals in ways that you didn’t think was possible as Onuki shout-screams as if she wandered out of a pop song into the metal underground. If you think that sounds crazy, imagine how this shit translates live. April 12 at 9:30 Club. $30. —Matt Cohen

Maria Schneider

One of America’s most vital patrons of the arts sits right under our noses: the Library of Congress. We think of it more as a custodian, being that it’s, well, a library. But it has done extraordinary stuff in the realm of commissioning new work from American composers of all stripes. This year, a commission went to Maria Schneider, one of the most acclaimed and creative writers and bandleaders in the jazz world. (And an occasional crossover: It was Schneider’s orchestra that collaborated with David Bowie on the single release of his song “Sue.”) The resulting piece will have its premiere this spring at LOC’s Coolidge Auditorium. The details are still under wraps, but here’s everything we know about it: It’s a composition for her 17-piece orchestra, and it’s the follow-up to her critically adored, Grammy-nominated recording from last year, The Thompson Fields. That’s it—but that’s enough to make the mouth water. April 15 at the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium. Free. —Michael J. West

The Feelies

There’s a song on The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms—its 1980 debut album—called “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness,” which is apt because nervousness, in some ways, sums up the New Jersey band’s sound. With Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers-esque guitar squeals and a speedy motorik beat drawn from early krautrock and the minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, the nerdy rock combo has been a critics’ favorite for years. Though The Feelies were inactive for parts of the ’80s and from 1992 to 2008, the band, still led by guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, has returned with some new songs that are more jangly than jittery. While its live shows now usually emphasize the shimmering axe-work heard on more recent cuts, the band sometimes returns to its timeless, edgy guitar approach of yore. April 16 at 9:30 Club. $25. —Steve Kiviat

Lakou Mizik

Roots music collective Lakou Mizik, whose French Creole name roughly translates to “music from the homeland,” came together Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the earthquake struck in 2010. With members ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s, this nine-member ensemble does songs in multiple traditional Haitian styles with lyrics that frequently reflect the current sociopolitical climate in Haiti. And its music is just as dynamic—a blend of polyrhythmic Haitian rara carnival music propelled by homemade metal horns, percussion-filled afro-funky vodou grooves with call-and-response vocals, and strummed folk tunes coupled with vocal harmonies. Fluency in Haitian Creole may be needed to truly grasp it all, but one can still dance to its sounds and be wowed by its lush vocal harmonies. April 23 at Dance Place. $15–$30. —Steve Kiviat

Father John Misty

Joshua Michael Tillman has come a long way since his days releasing sleepy acoustic records under the moniker J. Tillman. Now he’s Father John Misty: foul-mouthed, wry, and earnestly irritated with modern life. In “True Affection,” off 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman sings about dating in the age of the text message. “When can we talk/ With the face/ Instead of using all these strange devices?” But personal gripes expand to something greater: It’s not quite social criticism, but maybe social kvetching. On his debut album, Fear Fun, Tillman broods over his role in resource exploitation. “Try not to think so much about/ The truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record.” His balance of sincerity and irony sums up a thousand think-pieces about the millennial ethos, which may explain how the hometown hero (he’s a Rockville native!) immediately sold out both his upcoming shows at the Lincoln Theatre. April 25–26 at Lincoln Theatre. Sold out.Anya van Wagtendonk

Ring Cycle

Washington National Opera may have put on Moby-Dick two years ago, but the Ring Cycle is its white whale. The company tried to stage a complete production of Wagner’s monster four-opera series over a period of three years starting in 2006. They got three-quarters of the way through before running out of money and never fully staged the last one, Götterdämmerung. Francesca Zambello, who directed the aborted “American” Ring for WNO before putting on the whole thing in San Francisco, was brought back to D.C. with a mandate to finish what she started. She’s taken the artistic helm of the company with considerable success, putting on eye-popping contemporary operas like Florencia in the Amazon. But Ring is what WNO desperately wants to do, if only to say they’ve done it. For audience members, it can be an endurance test—18 hours of dragons, giants, and Wagner’s weird neopagan cosmovision spread out over four productions, beginning with The Rhinegold in April—but as a standard-bearer of the art form, it’s worth the slog—if only to say you’ve done it, too. April 30–May 22 at Kennedy Center Opera House. $75–$500. —Mike Paarlberg

Ruslan and Ludmila

Washington National Opera isn’t the only company putting on epics involving magic rings this spring; up the road in Silver Spring, the more modestly budgeted Bel Cantanti offers a semi-staged, rarely seen Russian answer to Wagner, Ruslan and Ludmila. Mikhail Glinka’s opera was never performed that much—Russian critics at the time derided it as “not an opera…a randomly assembled gallery of musical scenes”—and today, Western audiences mostly just hear the overture. Though inspired by Pushkin’s poem on 10th-century Kievan Rus history, Glinka was as concerned with building new national mythologies as exploring old ones; his music incorporated Turkish- and Persian-inspired “oriental” themes which dovetailed with the 19th century Russian empire’s thrust into the Caucasus and Central Asia. As with Wagner, Glinka offered a lesson on how Romanticism and an aggressive, militarist nationalism could go hand in hand. May 7–15 at Randolph Road Theater. $40.Mike Paarlberg

Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival

The Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival has reinvented itself in the past few years. Notice, for one thing, that it’s no longer called the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival—the focus is still on female jazz artists, but the programmers wanted to give themselves a little leeway. In its 21st year, though, the “leeway” has gone to new lengths: The first of the festival’s two nights is less concert and more stage production. A Conversation With Mary Lou Williams, scripted by literary scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin and directed by Law & Order’s S. Epatha Merkerson, combines biographical sketches of Williams with a performance of her (still criminally overlooked) music by pianist Geri Allen, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Kassa Overall, and vocalist Carmen Lundy (as Williams). The concerts are backloaded onto the festival’s second night, with sets by flutist Jane Bunnett with Cuban band Maqueque and drummer Allison Miller’s (pictured) Boom Tic Boom. May 13–14 at Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. $38. —Michael J. West

“Maxwell MacKenzie: Going Deep”

Maxwell MacKenzie’s photographs of tumbledown barns and other largely abandoned buildings in the upper Midwest have always been about the passage of time—peeling paint, missing windows, and sagging beams. Now, in the exhibition “Going Deep: Exploring the Melancholy Beauty in the Midwest over 35 Years,” his images are doubly about the passage of time: Taking a page from William Christenberry, MacKenzie’s exhibit includes before-and-after images of some of his favorite locations, such as the little building in Everts Township, Minn., with a fresh coat of red paint amid a field of golden wheat in the 1980s but in later renderings with a window in increasing states of disrepair. For this critic, the exhibition will be thrice about the passage of time: A review of MacKenzie’s “Abandonings West: Black & White Panoramic Photographs of the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana & Minnesota” was my first major photography assignment for City Paper, more than 16 years ago. Through March 31 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery. Free. —Louis Jacobson

“Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World”

Even for those not particularly interested in any art before Picasso, the traveling exhibition of Hellenistic sculpture at the National Gallery of Art does not fail to impress upon the viewer the skill, ingenuity, and interconnectedness of the Ancient World. Hellenistic refers to the spread of Greek culture, particularly its art, following the conquests of Alexander the Great and continuing with Roman admiration and downright forgery. Rome got its Grecophile fix with cheaper marble copies, which we’ve come to broadly recognize as “classical” sculpture. But bronze was the medium of currency for centuries, the technique of casting and the Greek perfection of form and expression spread throughout the Mediterranean. Lost at sea, melted down for weapons, toppled along with leaders, bronzes that had proliferated in the thousands have been whittled down to a sparse 200 works left in the world, 50 of which are shown here. Truly a once in a lifetime exhibition, it leaves viewers astonished by a striving for perfection intrinsic to the Greeks, who forged not only bronze but the foundations of Western culture. Through March 20 at the National Gallery of Art. Free. —Erin C. Devine

“No Mountains in the Way”

To the extent that anyone associates the National Endowment for the Arts with photography, it’s probably for the 1989 Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art that caused an enormous culture-wars hubbub. But a decade and a half before that, the NEA funded a far less controversial photographic project that is now being re-exhibited for a new generation. With a grant of just $5,000, the federal agency sponsored “No Mountains in the Way,” a project to document the architecture, landscape, and people of Kansas. Jim Enyeart, then the curator of photography at the University of Kansas Museum of Art, took part in the project, along with Kansas natives Terry Evans and Larry Schwarm. The Kansas effort proved to be enough of a success that between 1976 and 1981, the NEA handed out similar grants to more than 100 regional photographers across the country. The Smithsonian American Art Museum eventually became the repository of the Kansas project’s 120 photographs, and of these, 63 vintage prints will be part of the new exhibit. Feb. 26–July 31 at Smithsonian American Art Museum. Free. —Louis Jacobson

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016

On March 5, 2007, a bomb went off on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. For decades, books had been sold in shops and stalls along the winding the street, named after the classical Arab poet. The explosion destroyed much of the neighborhood and claimed 30 lives. Those who survived have since rebuilt their stores and are now back in business. The lives and books lost will be remembered during the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here DC 2016 festival. The cornerstone of the series of art exhibits, literary programs, and workshops is a reading at the American Art Museum by poets Amal al-Jubouri, Dunya Mikhail, and Beau Beausoleil, along with music and speeches to celebrate the freedom of expression. March 5 at the American Art Museum. Free. Natalie Villacorta

“Turquoise Mountain”

“Turquoise Mountain” at the Sackler Gallery sounds a bit like a throwback to ethnographic exhibitions from a century ago: The museum plans to create a replica of Old Kabul in which living, breathing artisans from Afghanistan will be on display, demonstrating their skills. Yet the show is only a sampling of an even more ambitious historical recreation. Since 2006, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a Kabul-based British NGO, has tried to erase the changes wrought by Taliban, mujaheddin, and Soviet control in the Murad Khani historic area. The foundation has built up infrastructure, restored historic buildings, and revived traditional crafts and culture—including jewelry making, which was forbidden by the Taliban. “Turquoise Mountain” will feature architectural fragments, photographs, and videos highlighting the work of artists who continue to struggle with threats of violence and terror in a rapidly changing city. March 5–Jan. 29, 2017 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Free. —Jeffry Cudlin

“The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today”

The 43 pieces that encompass this juried exhibition, held every three years and named for benefactor Virginia Outwin Boochever, cover the broad range of contemporary portraiture. Amongst these works are various sculptures, photographs, paintings, and even mixed-media pieces. As such, the small selection from the more than 2,500 entries to the portrait competition demonstrates the growth in our collective understanding of what constitutes a portrait. March 12–Jan. 8, 2017 at National Portrait Gallery. Free. —Jerome Langston

“Robert Irwin: All the Rules Will Change”

If you like going to museums to have an emotional experience, Robert Irwin is your man. Years before the installation trend blew up (“Wonder” at the Renwick is a perfect example), a number of California-based artists in the 1960s played with the ideas of light and perception, creating minimalist installations that completely altered the atmosphere and mood of a room, often through subtle changes in lighting. Aptly named the California Light and Space movement, artists included Robert Irwin, John McLaughlin, Bruce Nauman, and James Turrell. This spring, the Hirshhorn presents the first museum survey devoted to Irwin’s work from that pivotal period in the 1960s, as well as the first U.S. museum survey outside of the artist’s native California since 1977. As an added bonus, Irwin has created a whole new installation especially for the Hirshhorn. April 7–Sept. 5 at the Hirshhorn Museum. Free. —Elena Goukassian

“She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World”

“She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World” features the work of 12 women artists using photography to tackle social codes, political issues, and gender identity. The show includes some traditional documentary photography, but many more of the images seem staged or surreal. Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi’s triptych, “Bullets Revisited #3” (2012), for example, shows a dream-like space in which a female figure, her skin covered in Islamic calligraphy, reclines on a bed made of glittering bullet casings. In her series, “Today’s Life and War” (2008), Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti depicts a young married couple who seem to be hanging laundry and eating meals on a ruined battlefield from the Iran-Iraq War; tanks loom on the periphery. With more than 70 photos and one video installation, “She Who Tells a Story” scrambles past- and present-day Arab revolutions, and offers a complicated picture of what it means to be a contemporary woman artist in a Muslim country. April 8–July 31 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. $10. —Jeffry Cudlin

Agua Furiosa

In drought-stricken California, Los Angeles-based Contra-Tiempo has turned to water. The activist company, led by Artistic Director Ana Maria Alvarez, seeks to provoke conversations about social justice using dance theater influenced by Latin and Afro-Cuban movement and rhythm. Contra-Tiempo’s newest work uses Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a point of departure, but rather than producing an interpretation, Agua Furiosa creates an alternate narrative. The story centers on not one but four distinct Calibans, Shakespeare’s slave character, while his mother, the witch Sycorax, is reimagined as Ella or Oyá, the Afro-Cuban orisha who is the spirit of storms and water. Adding to the original play’s exploration of the issues of exile, slavery, family, and the environment, Contra-Tiempo’s contemporary perspective asks audiences to examine the connections between these issues, to confront race relations in America, and to consider issues of power and politics as they play through water. Feb. 13–14 at Dance Place. $15–$30. —Emily Walz


Raymonda is a work from the golden age of Russian ballet now rarely performed in full. One of the last creations of the towering choreographer Marius Petipa, the three-act ballet premiered in St. Petersburg in 1898 set to a score by Russian Romantic composer Alexander Glazunov. Petipa’s ballet was revised in 1948 by Konstantin Sergeyev into the version the Mariinsky now performs. The star of the show is Raymonda, a medieval noblewoman torn between suitors. While Raymonda waits for her crusading knight to return, a beautiful stranger accompanied by an impressive retinue arrives at her castle. In wooing Raymonda, the stranger, a Saracen warrior from the Middle East, becomes the first tempting and then threatening Other who would steal Raymonda away from her Hungarian fiancé. Following on a dream sequence, visits from a ghostly White Lady, and a duel to the death, the xenophobic storyline resolves in its third act into the Hungarian-style celebratory dances that make up the famous and oft-excerpted Grand Pas Classique Hongrois. Feb. 23–28 at Kennedy Center Opera House. $49–$225.Emily Walz

New York City Ballet

New York City Ballet’s week-long residency at the Kennedy Center has been a spring tradition for over a decade. The company will perform in repertory, so audiences can see different programs on different nights. For fans of classical ballet, one program is entirely a tribute to the 19th-century Danish choreographer August Bournonville. The other program includes pieces by NYCB legends: its co-founder George Balanchine, considered to be the father of American ballet, and Peter Martins, the company’s longtime ballet master-in-chief. Washingtonians can also be among the first to see Justin Peck’s The Most Incredible Thing, a contemporary adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale featuring 50 dancers. Its staging here will come just a few weeks after its world premiere in New York. March 1–6 at Kennedy Center Opera House. $29–$119. —Anya van Wagtendonk

Carmina Burana

You know some of Carmina Burana even if you don’t recognize the name: One movement of the operatic cantata, “O Fortuna,” is used to heighten the drama in movies like Jackass and commercials for Domino’s. The entire work, 24 movements in all, also provides the score for a ballet choreographed by Septime Webre, the artistic director of The Washington Ballet, which will perform the piece for the first time in 10 years. Contemporary will mix with classical in this program, as WBT dancers also perform George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. Set to music by Tchaikovsky, Balanchine’s choreography nods to famous Russian ballets like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, but it is also famously technical; Mikhail Baryshnikov called it the most difficult piece he ever danced. April 13–17 at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. $32.25–$130.Anya van Wagtendonk

Bowie & Queen

The Washington Ballet ends its 2015–16 season with what promises to be a real crowd-pleaser. Choreographers Trey McIntyre and Edwaard Liang have created some very unique pieces to the music of David Bowie and Queen. McIntyre’s “Mercury Half-Lifeis an unusual combination of tap and ballet, while Liang explores the many faces of David Bowie in his brand new, world premiere ballet, “Dancing in the Street.” Although the performances will likely feature many men in tights (Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s glam costumes fit perfectly into the ballet aesthetic), don’t expect to see many tutus. Unlike most ballets, the leading performers will likely be men. May 4–15 at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. $32.25–$130. —Elena Goukassian

Malpaso Dance Company

The young Cuban contemporary dance company Malpaso brings its 10 dancers and a steadily growing repertoire on a U.S. tour this spring. Past work has drawn inspiration from scenes of daily life in Havana, though the company also performs works by international choreographers. Unlike many in Cuba, the company receives no government funding and instead has been forging its own way, building partnerships with art institutions abroad that helped make the company’s 2014 international premiere possible. The program will feature D.C. premieres of pieces by resident choreographer and Artistic Director Osnel Delgado, formerly of the Danza Contemporánea de Cuba; Ronald K. Brown’s “Por Que Sigues (Why You Follow),” commissioned for the company in 2014; and “Bad Winter” by Trey McIntyre. May 21–22 at Dance Place. $15–$30. —Emily Walz

Tracy Morgan

Tracy Morgan’s appearance at the Kennedy Center in April will be the first chance for D.C. fans to see the actor and comedian perform since a serious vehicle collision in 2014 threatened his performing future. After more than a year of rehabilitation, Morgan began reviving his often suggestive routine last fall with an added dose of self-deprecation about the crash and rumors of potential brain damage. Morgan is known for his outlandish celebrity impressions and playing Tracy Jordan, his exaggerated alter ego on NBC’s 30 Rock. Since October, he has made a series of late-night appearances, including a mini 30 Rock reunion on Saturday Night Live. His “Picking Up the Pieces” tour began in February. April 22 at Kennedy Center Concert Hall. $50–$99. —Quinn Myers

Richard Engel

NBC’s Richard Engel has spent years in front of the camera, reporting on ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Now, he’s putting what he’s seen on the page. Engel takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of people—both military personnel and civilians—who taught him about the complexities of war. As a journalist, Engel can’t help but connect the past with the present; he examines years-old battles in Syria and their after-effects in a way that shines a light on politics, humanity, and everything in between. Feb. 16 at Politics & Prose. Free. Jordan-Marie Smith

Amber Tamblyn

You’d remember Amber Tamblyn from your favorite childhood TV shows and movies if someone mentioned her. And that’s the problem: Tamblyn isn’t mentioned enough. There’s more than enough to say about the award-winning actress, one of those things being her impressive presence in the literary world. Tamblyn has released two poetry collections, for which she has received quite a bit of recognition. While her first two books, Free Stallion and Bang Ditto, focused on teen love and being a part of young Hollywood, Dark Sparkler connects Tamblyn’s identity as a former starlet and current star to the demise of icons like Marilyn Monroe and Bollywood’s Taruni Sachdev. Poetry is the best way to get to know someone, and Tamblyn makes it easier every time. Feb. 19 at Busboys and Poets Brookland. Free. —Jordan-Marie Smith

Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life sucked me out of my life for one week this past summer. I stayed up late reading, and when it was time for work, I carried the 720-page tome to the office and snuck a few pages in at lunch, completely lost in the story of Jude and his three best friends from college as they pursued their dreams in law, art, architecture, and acting, and battled their demons from the past. While the novel has been hailed as a long-awaited Great Gay Novel, Yanagihara writes intelligently on a range of subjects—math, mental health, morality—but with particular honesty about art. Feb. 21 at Busboys and Poets Takoma. Free. —Natalie Villacorta

Ben Ratliff

A New York Times critic is coming to town to teach us how to listen to music. No, it’s better than it sounds. Longtime Times writer Ben Ratliff visits Politics & Prose for a conversation with Washington Post pop critic Chris Richards about his new book, Every Song Ever, which tackles how and why we enjoy music in an age when nearly “every song” is a few clicks away. Each chapter of Every Song promises to examine a different aspect of music listening; explaining the inextricable links between heavy metal and flamenco, searching for history’s most perfect musical moment, and tackling a question as old as songs themselves: “What makes music sad?” Go ask him questions about Fugazi. Feb. 23 at Politics & Prose. Free.Maeve McDermott

Diane Rehm

For 30 years, Diane Rehm has hosted her own show on WAMU, bringing domestic and foreign issues to audiences around the country. Now, she gets vulnerable in her latest book, On My Own. Out of the studio, Rehm supported her husband of more than 50 years as he battled Parkinson’s disease. Rehm’s experiences and emotions reach readers as she illuminates one of the most difficult times of her life. Through sorrow and pain, the journalist examines how being alone changed her perspective and her existence. This book is no doubt about Diane Rehm’s struggles, but it’s also a companion for those who have experienced loss. March 2 at Sixth & I. $20; April 5 at Politics & Prose. Free. —Jordan-Marie Smith

Leslie Jamison and Mitchell S. Jackson

Thirty-three-year-old writer Leslie Jamison has worked as a juice barista, Gap clerk, office temp, SAT tutor, and baker, but the job that inspires her collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, is medical actor. She is paid to play sick and have medical students name her maladies. Among other things, she grades them on their capacity for empathy. “It’s not enough for someone to have a sympathetic manner or use a caring tone. The students have to say the right words to get credit for compassion,” Jamison writes in the title essay. Many of us, including Jamison herself, mistake empathy for imagining the tragedies that happen to others happening to ourselves. But that’s what Jamison coins as “inpathy”—empathy means entering “another person’s pain as you’d enter another country.” Jamison explores this idea in a range of topics — from Morgellons, a disease where the afflicted are convinced their skin is infected with insects but that many experts dismiss as delusion, to the Barkley Marathons, a 100-mile slog through the Tennessee backcountry inspired by an assassin’s prison escape. Jamison visits her birthplace to discuss how we conceive of our own and other’s pain alongside Mitchell S. Jackson, author of the Residue Years, a novel based on Jackson’s experience growing up in a Portland, Ore. neighborhood blighted by crack cocaine. March 21 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. $15. —Natalie Villacorta

Heidi Julavits

When I went to the public library to reread Heidi Julavits’ latest book, The Folded Clock, I couldn’t find it. The librarian informed me it was actually classified as a biography, though I had been looking through the fiction aisles. This made sense: The book is a diary, with a twist—the entries begin with “Today I …” and move back and forth through time—from Oct. 26 to July 31 back to July 16, for example—highlighting how today could have been yesterday or tomorrow. But Julavits’ writing is so much more compelling than a real diary that I had mistaken it for fiction. The entries feel so full because rather than just recording events, she makes connections to her past—on April 17, for example, she wears a coat she hasn’t worn in years and finds in the pockets her wedding vows. She remembers putting the coat on when it became cold in the Maine backyard where the ceremony took place. She tries to read the vows, but grows uncomfortable. “What writer can look at something he or she wrote ten years ago and not feel that back then he or she knew basically nothing about language or life?” she writes. Through these associations, the reader sees how try as we may to distinguish our current selves from former selves, we keep circling back to a core self, like hands on a clock. April 1 at Politics & Prose. Free. —Natalie Villacorta

Jen Kirkman

Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman presents her book of awkward and hilarious experiences in a not-so-stand-up fashion, and that’s probably fitting. Breaking out of the typical comedian-audience dynamic, Kirkman uses her new book, I Know What I’m Doing And Other Lies I Tell Myself, to make us all realize we are likely liars as well. From her awkward adolescence to even more awkward one-night stands in her so-called adulthood, Kirkman’s maybe-too-relatable confessions make all of the little and big lies we tell ourselves seem OK. April 16 at Sixth & I. $20 advance, $25 at the door. Jordan-Marie Smith

Washington Jewish Film Festival

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I wonder if Natalie Portman would make a good director,” the Washington Jewish Film Festival’s got you covered. Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, will close out a week-long festival of nearly 80 international films, screened across the city. Features, documentaries, and shorts illustrate the diversity of the Jewish experience, which includes Persian farmers (Baba Joon, billed as “the first Persian-language Israeli film”); African tribes (Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree); teenage love and rebellion (Barash); and Barney Frank (Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank). Directors, actors, producers, and writers will speak between screenings. Other events include a panel about Arab citizenry in Israel and an evening of storytelling with Story District on the subject of faith and sexuality. Feb. 24–March 6 at various locations. $13 single tickets; passes start at $150. —Anya van Wagtendonk

In Transit

Perhaps no other filmmakers have single-handedly shaped the form of documentary filmmaking more than Albert and David Maysles. With seminal films like 1969’s Salesman, 1970’s Gimme Shelter, and 1976’s Grey Gardens, the Maysles pioneered documentary filmmaking through their cinéma vérité approach, which places viewers in the lives of the subjects like a fly on the wall. David died in 1987 and Albert last year, while he was working on what would be his final film, In Transit. It’s perhaps the most fitting note to go out on. A love letter of sorts to the fleeting relationships formed while we’re, er, in transit, Maysles’ film puts us in the middle of the lives of several passengers on the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s 46-hour passenger line that runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. What starts out as simple conversations with passengers evolves into an intense and intimate portrait of life. It’s a deeply human film that sticks with you long after the journey has ended. March 6 at National Gallery of Art East Building. Free. —Matt Cohen

Attack the Block

If you found yourself wondering, while watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, just where its charismatic young star John Boyega came from, you’ll find your answer in Attack the Block, a fast and funny 2011 British indie. Boyega plays Moses, the 15-year-old leader of a gang of budding criminals who have their courage tested when their inner-city neighborhood—known simply as “the block”—is the target of an alien invasion. With its convincing genre thrills and dash of self-awareness, Attack the Block often draws comparison to Shaun of the Dead (the presence of Nick Frost as a cowardly pot dealer doesn’t help), but Boyega elevates it to something even more special. He gives a more quiet, soulful performance than in The Force Awakens (although his trademark heavy breathing is still on display), which makes his action-star antics in the final third all the more cathartic. It’s bloody good fun. Feb. 26 at AFI Silver Theatre. $13. —Noah Gittell

The Quiet Man

When I think of The Quiet Man, John Ford’s classic 1952 romantic comedy, I remember color: the lush greens of the Irish countryside, the bright gray skies, and, of course, Maureen O’Hara’s flaming red hair. The characters who populate the fictional town of Inisfree are just as vivid. O’Hara (who died in October) is the defiant Mary Kate, who catches the eye of Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an ex-boxer who returns to Ireland from America to start a new life. To capture her heart, he must win over her brother, a sullen brute who knows little of Thornton’s pugilist past. Not all of The Quiet Man has aged well. Sean’s often rough treatment of Mary Kate was supposed to be cute, but in 2015 it seems painfully misogynistic. The depiction of the Irish as drunken, gambling degenerates might also meet some resistance today. Yet even these antiquated elements serve the inner logic of the film as a portrait of this bizarre Irish community that seems stuck somewhere in the 19th century. While winning over Mary Kate and her brother, Thornton must also submit to the town’s eccentric courtship rituals (surprise: there is drinking involved). In doing so, The Quiet Man gracefully captures a moment in which modernity—which, believe it or not, Wayne once represented—bumps into traditionalism, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. March 19 at AFI Silver Theatre. $13.Noah Gittell

The Creeping Garden

The most unsettling films aren’t always the scariest ones. Sure, there’s something to be said for how a filmmaker can take a spooky story and manipulate lighting, music, and mise-en-scène to create a truly terrifying atmosphere, but often times they need not go further than taking a deep dive into the natural world. Case in point: co-directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp’s modestly eldritch documentary The Creeping Garden, which takes an in-depth look at the bizarre creatures that are slime molds, and the “fringe scientists, mycologists, and artists” who dedicate their life’s work to the off-putting organisms. To most, the subject might seem dry—fodder for an educational science film one might watch in a 400-level microbiology course—but Grabham and Sharp frame the film as a slow-burn sci-fi, with a creepy retro analog-synth score by Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke. After all, you need some sort of thematic manipulation to thoroughly creep audiences out. March 19 at National Gallery of Art East Building. Free. —Matt Cohen


It’s a classic love story: She’s a woman of science. He’s a man of bees. Can they make it work? In Nick Payne’s Constellations, the answer depends on which multiverse their courtship unfolds in. Over the course of the play, Roland and Marianne build toward romance and into a relationship again and again, in different ways and on different timeframes. The play delighted critics when it first debuted in London, earning Payne comparisons to Tom Stoppard, another playwright who spins theoretical physics into drama. It reopened on Broadway last January in a production starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Now it will be staged in Studio Theatre’s intimate Studio X, so audiences can get cozy as they contemplate how crazy chance is, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Feb. 10–Mar. 6 at Studio Theatre. $20–$65. —Anya van Wagtendonk

for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf

Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf proved its point upon its first production. A piece about the structural limitations imposed on women of color, it was only the second play by a black woman ever performed on Broadway when it debuted there in 1975 (just a few years after Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun). Shange’s Tony Award-winning play wasn’t a play at all, but an arrangement of 20 poems read and performed by seven women named for the colors of the rainbow. She referred to her genre-busting exploration of self-love and self-harm as a “choreopoem,” and for the artists who have adapted it since, figuring out what that means has been the first order of business. Over the last 40 years, for colored girls has been produced as a book, a television film, and even a Tyler Perry movie. Even if Theater Alliance’s production (directed by Deidra Starnes) hews to the traditional staging envisioned by Shange, it can’t help but be radical. Feb. 24–March 26 at Anacostia Playhouse. $35. —Kriston Capps


The Atlas Performing Arts Center launches its 10th anniversary season with the INTERSECTIONS Festival, 10 days of performances encompassing every genre you can imagine. Theater, music, and dance mix with spoken word, acrobatics, puppetry, and opera—often in the same performance. Artists span age, race, and gender spectra, and many come from around the world; performances include Indian jazz, Russian folk music, a play about women of the African diaspora, and “avant-garde flamenco.” D.C. flavor will also be on tap with the Go-Go Symphony, Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble, and a tango piece celebrating both Buenos Aires and the District, among other local works. Much of the work, too, will have a social bent, such as Restoration Stage’s Standing for Trayvon, a play about Trayvon Martin’s mother, and Rude Mechanicals’ reimagining of Antigone in the context of last spring’s Baltimore uprising. Between ticketed performances, festival attendees can see free concerts in the lobby, and Saturdays offer kid-friendly entertainment and activities. The festival will close with a day focused on youth, featuring local students performing original works, and a youth summit about how art impacts community. Feb. 26–March 6 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. $8–$30. —Anya van Wagtendonk

The Flick

Much of the buzz surrounding Annie Baker’s exhaustively long yet decidedly rewarding play, The Flick, has focused on its length, its lack of pronounced, highly dramatic conflict, and its tendency toward the visual exploration of the mundane. Yet the play, which received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has been knighted by New York City theater critics as a great new addition to the American canon, following its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013 at Playwright Horizons. And Baker herself has emerged quite notably as a star writer for the stage. For its D.C.-area premiere at Signature, award-winning resident director Joe Calarco will face the unenviable task of keeping butts in seats during the show’s approximately three-hour run time, as some patrons have reportedly walked out during intermission in prior productions. All of this for a play about three movie theater workers in a Massachusetts art-house cineplex who make minimum wage and chop it up about movie stars and millennial angst? Perhaps patience is indeed a virtue that The Flick eventually rewards. March 1–April 17 at Signature Theatre. $40–$94. —Jerome Langston

The Pillowman

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh may be having a D.C. moment. Three of his dark comedies have been staged around town in the past two years, and Forum Theatre is adding to the trend with its production of The Pillowman. The play is a creepy Kafka-esque comedy (black, as is McDonagh’s wont) about a writer whose work hews too closely to a gruesome reality. It’s a change from the McDonagh works Washingtonians may have already seen: Instead of a depressing rural Irish village, the play is set in various dark chambers of an unnamed totalitarian state. The Pillowman is not quite novel at this point, but director Yury Urnov, whose career has largely focused on post-Soviet works, should bring a keen eye to authoritarianism absurdities. As always, Forum will sell most tickets at a pay-what-you-will rate. It’s one of the best deals in town. March 10–April 2 at Forum Theatre. $25–$35. —Anya van Wagtendonk

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Like any classic Tennessee Williams play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is all about the dark side of Southern gentility, with more than a few helpings of family dysfunction. But don’t let the characters’ hilarious names fool you. Big Daddy, Big Mama, Brick, Gooper, and Maggie the Cat’s personal and familial tragedies are truly heart wrenching. In fact, after A Streetcar Named Desire, this play won Williams his second Pulitzer Prize. The Keegan Theatre’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof last summer was fantastic; if Round House’s version is even half as good, it’ll be a real treat. March 30–April 24 at Round House Theatre. $36–$61. —Elena Goukassian

All the Way

The growing fascination with Lyndon Baines Johnson, the quietly complicated 36th president of the United States, has clearly transcended the halls of academia and moved into popular public discourse. Credit is certainly owed to Ava Duvernay’s 2014 Oscar-nominated Selma, which raised valid questions about LBJ’s motivations as the “civil rights president” and scrutinized his character with quite a bit of controversy in tow. In Robert Schenkkan’s Tony-winning All the Way, however, LBJ’s political dancing act and undeniable courage are contextualized differently. Jack Willis stars as Johnson in the Arena Stage premiere, while Bowman Wright again takes the role of Martin Luther King Jr., which he played to near perfection in Arena’s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. Their performances as these two towering 20th century figures alone should drive interest during the drama’s month-plus run. April 1–May 8 at Arena Stage. $40–$127. —Jerome Langston

The Mystery of Love & Sex

British playwright Bathsheba Doran deserves a lot of credit for delving into the oft misunderstood world of sexual fluidity, as she’s done as a writer on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. Doran’s dramatically heavy Nest premiered at Signature in 2007, and she returns this spring with a newer work. The Mystery of Love & Sex explores the friendship between two college students, Charlotte and Jonny, who have known each other since childhood. They toy with the idea of taking their relationship further, amidst questions surrounding their individual sexual identities. This D.C. premiere, directed by Stella Powell Jones, promises complete male and female nudity, as well as a story that might eliminate some of the static notions of identity. April 5–May 8 at Signature Theatre. $40–$89. —Jerome Langston

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Gabriel García Márquez’ 1981 novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold starts with a murder and traces it back to its origins. But it’s not a detective story as much as a psychological roller coaster infused with tales of familial honor, rape, revenge, and small-mindedness. Although the murder is gruesome, the real tragedy is encapsulated in a magical-realist twist, which gives the story its prophetic title. Adapted for the stage by Jorge Triana, GALA’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold—like most of the theater’s shows—will be in Spanish with English surtitles. April 7–May 8 at GALA Hispanic Theatre. $38–$50. —Elena Goukassian