YOU DON’T GET MUCH more traditional than the Washington Revels‘ Christmas Revels. Started 50 years ago by the late John “Jack” Langstaff, the celebration of winter solstice is a merry melange of medieval music, drama and dance. Each year, the large-scale production revolves around a different theme, and this year’s Elizabethan motif called for the court jester talents of Mark Jaster, the area’s best known, um, fool (we mean that nicely). The veteran Revel and local mime will play the role of Will Kemp, the original clown prince of Billy Shakespeare’s theatrical troupe.
» EXPRESS: For the uninitiated, can you explain the Christmas Revels?
» JASTER: It takes traditional material and brings it alive. It’s big, it’s inclusive, it’s community. There’s a great chorus of 30 people, there’s a children’s chorus, and there are two bands — an early music band and a brass ensemble. It’s a huge spectacle. The songs are not really standard fare, but there are a few people will recognize. It’s not gonna be the stuff that you hear in the shopping mall.
» EXPRESS: What is it like reviving the persona of Shakespeare’s most famous comic actor, Will Kemp?
» JASTER: It is a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done a little research and reading, but mostly I have to work with the script that Revels has generated, so I need to make him alive now in this play. Ultimately, it’s not about history, but about who we are right now.
» EXPRESS: Can you talk about your background as a mime?
» JASTER: You wouldn’t even know I was a mime, looking at this role. I’m talking from the minute you walk in the theater. But I studied with Marcel Marceau and served as Marceau’s teaching assistant in the ’80s in a series of seminars he taught.
» EXPRESS: Where else have you performed in the D.C. area?
» JASTER: My wife, Sabrina Mandell, and I did a show last January at the Round House Theatre of Silver Spring called “The Seven Ages of Mime.” And we also performed both this past year and the year before in the Capital Fringe Festival. I performed for many years at the Round House Theatre and at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
» EXPRESS: Christmas Revels invites the audience to join in. Does the Christmas crowd ever get out of control?
» JASTER: No, they don’t really. I think you’re probably talking about the “Lord of the Dance” — the song leaders lead several long, snaking aisles of audience members out in the lobby, and they go on forever and ever. Everybody’s welcome to join in.
Sometimes it seems a little wild if you step in the lobby of Lisner Auditorium and you have eight lines of people snaking up and down the stairs.
» Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m., $12-$40; 800-595-4849. (Foggy Bottom-GWU)
Written by Express contributor Tony Sclafani
Photo by Sabrina Mandell