Center Stage: February in Washington Theater

Irish charmers and an updated Oedipus story are among the highlights onstage this month

By: Sophie Gilbert

February’s biggest local-theater event is Charming Billy, the world premiere of Blake Robison’s stage adaptation of the National Book Award-winning novel by Alice McDermott. The play runs February 2 through 20 at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, the same neighborhood where McDermott lives. “The special part of this production is that Alice is a part of our community,” says Robison, artistic director at Round House. “We’re celebrating one of Bethesda’s most beloved authors in her back yard.”

In addition to Charming Billy—which tells the story of a lovable but troubled Irish-American alcoholic—February also has riffs on Shakespeare and Oedipus, an old-school musical, and a celebration of all things Albee.

Ireland’s award-winning Druid theater company comes to the Kennedy Center February 8 through 12 with The Cripple of Inishmaan by English playwright Martin McDonagh. The dark comedy is about what happens when a Hollywood film crew arrives in a 1930s Irish town. Buy tickets ($25 to $69) by calling 202-467-4600 or through the Kennedy Center’s Web site.

Washington Shakespeare Company presents Juno and the Paycock by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey February 17 through March 20. Set in a Dublin tenement in the 1920s, it tells of the colorful working-class Boyle family. Buy tickets ($25 to $35) at 800-494-8497 or through Box Office Tickets.

New York City’s SITI Company presents Radio Macbeth at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center February 4 and 5. The adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy imagines actors rehearsing the show late at night, plagued by superstition and mystery. Buy tickets ($35) at 301-405-2787 or the Clarice Smith Center’s Web site.

Woolly Mammoth’s first 2011 production is Oedipus El Rey, which runs February 7 through March 6. The play, by MacArthur “genius grant” winner Luis Alfaro, updates the Greek tragedy to a contemporary Los Angeles barrio. Buy tickets ($30 to $65) at 202-393-3939 or Woolly Mammoth’s Web site.

Arena Stage kicks off its Edward Albee Festival with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a caustic comedy about a professor and his wife (February 25 through April 10; tickets $55 and up), and At Home at the Zoo (February 25 through April 24; $55 and up), an expansion of Albee’s early one-act “The Zoo Story.” Virginia Woolf comes from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and stars actor and Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tracy Letts (of August: Osage County fame). Buy tickets by calling 202-488-3300 or Arena Stage’s Web site.

On February 12, Shakespeare Theatre Company broadcasts King Lear live from London’s National Theatre. The show, sold out on its home stage, stars Derek Jacobi. Buy tickets ($20) at 202-547-1122 or Shakespeare Theatre’s Web site.

February 23 through March 20, Olney Theatre Center stages Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The musical reimagining of an Old Testament tale was one of the songwriting team’s earliest hits, premiering at a London boys’ school. Buy tickets ($26 to $54) at 301-924-3400 or Olney Theatre’s Web site.

February 10 through 27, George Mason University’s professional company, Theater of the First Amendment, stages the premiere of 24, 7, 365 by Helen Hayes Award winner Jennifer L. Nelson. The comedy, at DC’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, is about two Washington couples whose camping trip ends up complicating their lives. Buy tickets ($15 to $30) at 202-399-7993 or Atlas Arts Center’s Web site.

January 29 through February 6, the Kennedy Center presents the premiere of American Scrapbook: A Celebration of Verse, a commissioned work for children ages nine and older by Jason Williamson. Combining theater, music, and spoken word, the hourlong production is based on the favorite poems of Caroline Kennedy and her mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Buy tickets ($18) at 202-467-4600 or the Kennedy Center’s Web site.

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