Venetian’ trio plus world-premiere take Blackfriars Playhouse stage for summer/fall 2020
Actors Jessika Williams, Sara Topham, John Harrell and Brandon Carter lead the resident company


STAUNTON, VA American Shakespeare Center launches the 2020 Marquee Repertory season this summer navigating the waters of Venice, the glittering locale of Shakespeare’s Othello and The Merchant of Venice and Ben Johnson’s Volpone. In the fall, the world premiere of Keene, a companion play to Othello by breakout playwright Anchuli Felicia King, joins the repertory. 

Artistic Director Ethan McSweeny assembles a compelling series of plays exploring the politics and personalities of evil, jealousy, greed and desire. Previously hailed in New York and D.C. for his imaginative interpretations of classic and contemporary plays, McSweeny joined the company two years ago. Most recently, he directed the world-premiere musical, The Willard Suitcases, which The Washington Post named one of the “Best Plays and Musicals of 2019.”

“It’s a new era at the Blackfriars Playhouse…as Ethan McSweeny puts his aesthetic stamp on what is rapidly becoming an American institution,” writes Andrew Walker White at DC Metro Theater Arts. McSweeny directs Othello, the headliner of 2020’s Marquee Repertory (June 19 – November 28).

Othello will feature ASC veteran Jessika Williams in the title role. Known for her work at the Royal Court Theatre, Almeida Theater, National Theatre of Scotland, and on the cult television show “Doctor Who,” Williams returns for her sixth season at American Shakespeare Center.

Classical actress Sara Topham, favorite leading lady of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, joins ASC’s acting company for summer/fall 2020 to play Emilia in Othello, Lady Politic Would-Be in Volpone and Shakespeare’s brilliant heroine Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Topham has been seen on Broadway (The Importance of Being Earnest, Travesties), at Hartford Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and The Old Globe in San Diego.

2014 Wall Street Journal “Director of the Year” Eric Tucker helms The Merchant of Venice (June 26 – November 29). Tucker, who serves as Artistic Director of Bedlam Theatre in NYC, is best known for his energetic stagings of classic texts (The Crucible, Saint Joan, Sense and Sensibility). Tucker returns to the Blackfriars stage after his visionary Caesar and Cleopatra in 2019.

Completing the summer trio is Ben Jonson’s viciously satiric comic masterpiece Volpone (August 15 – November 27). John Harrell, a 20-year veteran of the ASC ensemble, will lead the production. Harrell has delighted audiences in roles such as Touchstone, Falstaff, Malvolio, Bottom, and Hamlet. DC Metro Theater Arts recently recognized Harrell’s portrayal of Ftatateeta in Eric Tucker’s Caesar and Cleopatra as one of 2019’s “Most Outstanding Performances.”

Joining the Marquee Repertory in the fall is Keene, a world-premiere play by rising star Anchuli Felicia King (September 24 – November 28). Keene is a winner of ASC’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries initiative, an industry-changing undertaking to discover, develop and produce plays inspired by and in conversation with each of the works in Shakespeare’s canon.

Playwright Anchuli Felicia King’s first professional play, White Pearl, premiered on 3 continents in 2019: at London’s fabled Royal Court in May, Washington DC’s Studio Theatre in November, and her native Australia’s Sydney Theatre Company in October.

Brandon Carter stars as Tyler, the lone African-American Ph.D. candidate at a Shakespearean conference, whose reality keeps intersecting with the subject of his thesis: Ira Aldridge, the first black man to play Othello. In Keene, two young scholars of color, adrift in a sea of white, grapple with their longing for recognition, the scrabbling competitiveness of their peers, and their own hilarious personal demons in this laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking play. Past ASC productions featured Carter as Prince Hal in Henry IV, Orlando in As You Like It, and Cassius in 2019’s Julius Caesar.

Previews of Othello and The Merchant of Venice begin in June with an opening in July. Volpone will be added in August, followed by Keene in October. All four productions perform in rotating repertory through November 28, 2020.

Tickets to the Marquee Repertory, as well as the rest of the 2020 artistic year, are on sale now. They can be purchased online at, by calling the Box Office at 1.877.MUCH.ADO (1.877.682.4236), or in person at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Annual Subscriptions are also on sale.