STEPHEN GREGORY SMITH
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STEPHEN GREGORY SMITH
Don’t let his sweet expression fool you. Smith can commit serious mischief on a stage — and one can only hope that Washington theatergoers get to focus more regularly on that dark side. His home base is Signature, where his skills as a utility player have revealed a true team spirit. In one musical, he is cast in the starring role (Signature’s “The Boy Detective Fails”); in another he takes a featured part (Ford’s Theatre’s “Meet John Doe”). And then, he may just turn up next in the ensemble (Signature’s “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”).
That’s dedication for you. And when the role’s a bit tangier, a little more twisted, some other facet of Smith’s ability is laid bare. In Studio’s musical descent into nihilistic expressionism with “The Adding Machine,” Smith portrayed a shrill psycho by the name of Shrdlu. The psychic torment that spilled out of him in song was strangely beautiful — a pain that anyone appreciative of an actor’s striving for excellence is only too glad to bear.
From the beginning of his excellent acting adventure seven years ago, playing a servant in “Medea” at Washington Shakespeare Company (now called WSC Avant Bard), Strain has demonstrated a refined intelligence and a preternatural maturity, attributes that stamped him as forever watchable. Time and a nonstop theater career, onstage and in a director’s chair, have only confirmed that early impression.
He can embody innocence, as he did so touchingly as a young man unsullied by the brutality of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Theater J’s “Pangs of the Messiah.” But he’s gravitated to roles of more complexly rendered thinkers for some of his most memorable work: the 17th century Portuguese Jewish philosopher Baruch de Spinoza in “New Jerusalem,” also at Theater J; a monstrously rational Caligula in Albert Camus’ play of that title at Washington Shakespeare. In Strain’s performances, wise can come across as downright sexy.
Mills sometimes appears to have a skeleton made of something spongier than bone. (His “X-Men” name would no doubt be Slither.) Still in his 20s, this actor-acrobat overnight became a trademark Synetic Theater performer, a go-to guy for the undulating style of movement the troupe has made a hallmark.
The company’s wordless adaptations of Shakespeare are another of its signatures, and in them, Mills has made some of his most compelling impressions. His contortionist Puck helped give director Paata Tsikurishvili’s otherworldly “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” its carnival-like patina, and now there’s the possibility of doubling the Millsian pleasure: he’s the title character in “Jekyll and Hyde,” Synetic’s new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
NOVA Y. PAYTON
Yes, tornadoes do wear lipstick and heels. For dramatic confirmation of this meteorological oddity, consult the burgeoning career of Payton. Signature Theatre, the local epicenter of the modern musical, has thrown open its doors to her (and her glorious lungs), and the payoff is now on display in show after show.