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Wherefore Art Bipartisanship?

A Congressional band of brothers will strut and fret their hour at the Shakespeare Theatre Company on Monday night.

At the ninth annual Will on the Hill, Members of Congress will join actors to recite the “words, words, words” of the Bard to raise money for a theatrical literacy program.

“It is all in good fun,” event organizer Mandy Prather said. “It is a chance for Congressional Members to do what they do best: perform.” 

This year’s players include Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), along with two professionals, Tim Daly of TV’s “Private Practice” and D.C.-based actor Euan Morton.

In this case, the play is not exactly the thing. Instead, they’ll perform a script written by Kent State University English professor Peter Byrne that uses the Bard as inspiration for riffs on hot-button debates such as the budget showdown, public education and Charlie Sheen’s recent visit to Washington.

Lawmakers got their parts about a week ago, and first-time director Alan Paul said every attempt is made to match them to their pet issues.

“It is a chance [for Members] to have a laugh at the politics,” Paul said. 

The performance benefits the theater company’s arts program Text Alive.

Started 22 years ago, the semester-long program teaches students how to analyze a play before seeing a production by the theater company. It also trains teachers how to effectively incorporate Shakespeare and other classic literature into their curricula.

Text Alive is in 15 public-school classrooms, reaching 300 to 400 students and educators each year from the D.C. metro area. One class will perform as an opening act at Will on the Hill.

“They feel very honored to be picked,” program manager Vanessa Buono said. “They know they’ve done a very good job, and then they get to come to the theater, perform for an audience and be a guest.” 

Despite the political bent of the night, Paul, the director, said the event is grounded. 

“In many ways, Shakespeare is not political,” he said. “He is a supreme humanist. What he does better than anyone else is to take a complicated topic and investigate it from different angles. Although we make light of it, [Will on the Hill] is a fun way to investigate the folly and the emotion behind our political ideas and have a laugh about them.”

That could include the performance itself. Because lawmakers’ schedules are so tough to plan around, rehearsal is set for the day of the event, and there’s a chance the best-laid plans may go awry.

“We will all be flying by the seat of our pants,” Paul said. “You never know what will happen.”