OPENING THIS MONTH
At Shakespeare Theatre, Cornwall, England’s Kneehigh theater company presents Brief Encounter. The show—acclaimed in London and New York—is inspired by both Noël Coward’s play Still Life and its 1945 movie version, Brief Encounter, starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Through April 13.
At 1st Stage is Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, a black comedy about the buzz generated when a Hollywood filmmaker descends upon a sleepy Irish town. Through April 20.
Arguendo, a co-commission by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, New York’s Public Theater, and two other institutions, depicts a 1991 Supreme Court decision on public nudity following a case filed by two Indiana strip clubs, as imagined by the New York theater company Elevator Repair Service. Arguendo “is so wittily inventive that it makes you think that the Elevator Repair Service might as well have a go at the Pittsburgh phone directory next,” the New York Times said. April 1 through 27.
Round House Theatre presents Two Trains Running, August Wilson’s drama exploring life in an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh. April 2 through 27.
At MetroStage, John Vreeke directs The Thousandth Night, a spin on the Scheherazade story, about an actor in 1943 France who attempts to get a stay of execution by playing 38 characters from The Arabian Nights. April 3 through May 18.
The 89-year-old actor Hal Holbrook returns with Mark Twain Tonight, his one-man show about the American writer, which he first performed 55 years ago. At National Theatre April 4 and 5.
At Round House Silver Spring, Snow Angel, David Lindsay-Abaire’s 1999 play, set in Vermont during a blizzard, is this year’s Sarah Metzger Memorial Play, staged by high-schoolers in memory of a local theater student who died in a car accident. April 4 through 12.
Local actor Tom Story makes his directorial debut at Studio Theatre with Moth, a dark play by Declan Greene about two teens who fall into despair after being bullied at school. April 9 through May 4.
Olney Theatre reprises Once on Thus Island, the 24-year-old musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Rocky) about a girl on a Caribbean island who tries to bring a community together. April 9 through May 4.
The second play in Theater J’s Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival is Golda’s Balcony, William Gibson’s play about Golda Meir and her journey from immigrant to teacher to prime minister of Israel. Tovah Feldshuh, a Tony nominee for the Broadway run, stars. April 10 through 27.
Psalmayene 24 presents the final installment of his hip-hop trilogy at Imagination Stage in Cinderella: The Remix. The play reimagines Cinderella as a wannabe deejay and musician in a world where girls are shut out. April 12 through May 25.
At Folger Theatre, Fiasco Theater, a small New York company, premieres its newest production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “Fiasco . . . reminds us what theater, at its simplest and most powerful, is really for,” New York magazine wrote. April 17 through May 25.
At Signature Theatre, Matthew Gardiner directs The Threepenny Opera, Brecht’s satire about London beggars with music by Kurt Weill. April 22 through June 1.
Arena Stage presents Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Lieber and Stoller, famous for being Broadway’s longest-running musical revue. April 25 through June 8.
At DC’s Source, Constellation Theatre’s Allison Arkell Stockman directs The Love of the Nightingale, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1989 play depicting the Greek myth of Philomela, who was transformed into a nightingale after an assault by her brother-in-law. April 27 through May 25.
It’s hard to imagine many dramatists getting access to a former President and First Lady while researching a production. But few have Lawrence Wright’s résumé: New Yorker staff writer, Pulitzer-winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, creator and star of the acclaimed one-man show My Trip to Al-Qaeda. So when Arena Stage commissioned Wright to pen Camp David, about the 1978 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel—premiering March 21 through May 4—he headed to Plains, Georgia, to interview Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter about the historic negotiations. (He also traveled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Cairo to interview surviving members of the negotiating teams.)
In Plains, Wright says, “We sat in the den, and Carter was sitting on this chintz couch that matched the curtains. There were two exercise cycles in front of the television set, and some paintings he had done that reminded me of the illustrations in Goodnight Moon.” Carter’s White House communications director, Gerald Rafshoon, introduced Wright, and said he’d recently written a piece for the New Yorker about Scientology. According to Wright, Carter said, “Oh yes, I read that; I found it most intriguing,” and Rosalynn responded, “Since when do you read the New Yorker?”
The challenge with Camp David was whittling down a potential cast of hundreds of delegates. “It was very crowded,” Wright says. “Yet the truth was there were only three decision-makers and one very interesting person, Rosalynn. I thought if I could strip it down to the essentials, there’s a play.”
The four characters are Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin (Ron Rifkin), Jimmy Carter (Richard Thomas), and Rosalynn, who Wright says “had to make peace among the peacemakers.” The play recounts how over the course of 13 days, Carter, el-Sadat, and Begin negotiated the Camp David Accords at the presidential retreat north of Washington. The process was fraught with tension: Sadat and Begin reportedly refused to speak with each other directly, meaning President Carter had to relay messages. Says Wright, “Even on the last day, everything was in danger of falling apart.”
The author has been in the news most recently for his 2013 book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief. “Now there’s a play,” he jokes. The 448-page work was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction. Wright shrugs off the challenges he and his publisher, Knopf, faced by reporting on the notoriously litigious institution. “There have been lots of threats, but I don’t think they’re going to follow through on any of that,” he says. “The church has plenty of other problems. I’m glad I was able to give voice to the experiences of so many people who’ve been mistreated.”
Wright wrote his first play, Cracker Jack, in 1984, followed by Sonny’s Last Shot in 2003. In 2006, after joking to the New Yorker theater critic John Lahr that he was so sick of terrorists he wanted to write a musical comedy, he scored a meeting with Lincoln Center artistic director André Bishop, who “rolled his eyes” at the musical idea but was intrigued by Wright’s idea for a one-man show based on his experiences reporting The Looming Tower.
My Trip to Al-Qaeda detailed his time among extremists in the Middle East. It ran off-Broadway and across the country and was made into an HBO documentary. “I tend to work in the realm of reality, so I feel more comfortable drawing my materials from real events,” says Wright , who lives in Austin, Texas. “People who are remarkable characters at critical turning points in their lives—that’s what plays are made of.”
Director Molly Smith estimates that Camp David has been through 24 drafts—“that’s a new play,” she says. But she also recalls being astonished when, after giving Wright notes following the first reading, he promised her a revision within an hour. “He came back and had a strong rewrite. I said, ‘How is this possible?’ He said, ‘All the work is in the research.’”
When told this story, Wright laughs. “She’s working with anguished dramatists. I’m a person who’s spent a lot of time on deadline.”
Camp David is at Arena Stage March 21 through May 4. Tickets ($55 and up) are available at Arena Stage’s website.
An edited version of this article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
OPENING THIS MONTH
March 4 through 9, Broadway and London smash Mamma Mia! returns to the National Theatre, incorporating the Swedish pop group Abba’s hits with a flimsy but warm-hearted story about a girl who doesn’t know who her father is.
March 5 through April 13, Studio Theatre stages Water by the Spoonful, Quiara Alegría Hudes’s 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner about an Iraq War veteran struggling with life back home in Philadelphia. “For a drama peopled by characters who have traveled a long way in the dark, Water by the Spoonful gives off a shimmering, sustaining warmth,” said the New York Times.
March 10 through 30, the Kennedy Center presents the theater festival World Stages, an impressive showcase of performances by theater companies from around the world. Among the events: Peter Brook’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord presents The Suit, Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet Company (of War Horse fame) perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the National Theatre of China presents Green Snake.
March 12 through 30, Ambassador Theater takes up residence in the Mead Theater Lab at Flashpoint to stage Happily Ever After, a world premiere play by Cristina Colmena exploring the longevity of relationships.
March 13 at Strathmore, Olympia Dukakis performs in a “concert reading” of Rose, the play by Martin Sherman about a Holocaust survivor living in Florida. Dukakis originated the title role at the world premiere at London’s National Theatre in 1999 and has been performing it sporadically ever since.
March 13 through April 6, Arlington’s Synetic revisits Hamlet, the first play it staged in its Silent Shakespeare series. Paata Tsikurishvili directs; Irina Tsikurishvili choreographs and plays Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude.
March 14 through May 17, Ford’s Theatre stages The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Rebecca Feldman, Rachel Sheinkin, and William Finn’s musical comedy about a group of awkward tweens competing in a spelling bee was nominated for six Tony Awards in 2005 and won for Best Book of a Musical.
March 15 through April 12, Keegan Theatre presents Hair, the groovetastic 1967 musical about peace, free love, and counterculture.
March 18 through May 11, Signature Theatre presents the local premiere of Tender Napalm, Philip Ridley’s dramatic pas de deux about a man and woman revising their feelings for each other. London’s Guardian called the play “a frighteningly clear-eyed, viciously funny, and deeply sensual examination of the way love shipwrecks us on a desert island from which there can be no rescue.”
March 20 through April 5, the DC playwriting collective the Welders presents the world premiere of The Carolina Layaway Grail by Allyson Currin. At the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
March 20 through April 6 at Theater J, Sinai Peter directs The Admission, Motti Lerner’s Israeli homage to Arthur Miller’s drama All My Sons. The play is coproduced by the Cameri Theatre and the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa.
March 21 through May 4 at Arena Stage, Molly Smith directs the world premiere of Camp David, New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright’s play about the Camp David Accords.
March 25 through June 7, Michael Kahn directs a repertory presentation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II. Stacy Keach—who played King Lear to acclaim at Shakespeare in 2009—stars as Falstaff, Prince Hal’s drunken companion.
The Kennedy Center announced its 2014-15 season this morning. Here are the highlights:
The touring production of Evita stops by in October 2014.
The KenCen premieres its new production of Little Dancer, with direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, also in October.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is your holiday musical, arriving December 16.
Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer directs a new revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi before it heads to New York, opening January 17.
Tony-winning musical Once arrives for a six-week engagement in July 2015.
Smash hit Book of Mormon (which, you may remember, crashed the Kennedy Center’s website last summer when tickets went on sale), is returning for two months in the summer of 2015.
The KenCen presents Martha Clarke’s Cheri in October.
Beijing Dance Theater stops by in October.
Ballet West provides this year’s Nutcracker from December 1 through 14.
The Mariinsky Ballet performs a mixed-repertory program in January.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns in February.
American Ballet Theatre returns in March with one unnamed full-length work and a mixed-repertory program.
The New York City Ballet brings two mixed programs to the KenCen in April.
The Scottish Ballet performs A Streetcar Named Desire in May.
England’s the Royal Ballet performs Don Quixote and a mixed program in June.
Joshua Bell performs in the Season Opening Ball Concert September 21.
The Washington National Opera presents Florencia in the Amazon in September.
David Zinman conducts pianist Angela Hewitt in October.
John Mauceri conducts Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton in October.
Christoph Eschenbach conducts Midori October 30 through November 1.
Steven Reineke conducts an evening with Sutton Foster in November.
The WNO stages Puccini’s La Bohème in November.
The WNO Family Opera in December is Rachel Portman’s adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Pianist Tzimon Barto returns in January.
Organist Cameron Carpenter performs February 4.
Emanuel Ax also stops by in February.
The WNO presents Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites in February and March.
Jason Moran performs In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, 1959 in March.
The WNO revives Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in March.
Dianne Reeves returns in April.
Violinist Leonidas Kavakos performs in May.
The Kennedy Center also announced a festival dedicated to performing arts from Spain and Portugal. Iberian Suite: Arts Remix Across Continents will take place from March 2 through 24, and will feature theater, music, dance, and more.
British director Michael Attenborough, the former artistic director of London’s Almeida Theatre and an honorary associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, will head to Washington in the 2014-15 season to direct As You Like It at Shakespeare Theatre.
“I have been trying to bring Michael Attenborough to Washington for a very long time,” writes Shakespeare artistic director Michael Kahn in a letter to subscribers. “He sees [As You Like It] as a very personal and intimate play, and I’m looking forward to what is sure to be a beautiful production of one of Shakespeare’s most warm-spirited and light-hearted comedies.”
In addition to Attenborough, Shakespeare’s upcoming season will feature French director Dominique Serrand, who helms a production of Molière’s Tartuffe starring actor Steven Epp. Epp—most recently in Washington with his Helen Hayes Award-winning performance as Truffaldino in The Servant of Two Masters—and Serrand are cofounders and artistic directors of the Moving Company, a Minneapolis-based theater group, and former artistic directors of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which won the 2005 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre Company.
Washingtonian Ethan McSweeny also returns to direct a production of The Tempest. The show will be McSweeny’s first in Washington since his acclaimed 2012 holiday production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And playwright David Ives (Venus in Fur) returns to the theater with a third translation of a French comedy to follow his adaptations of The Liar and The Heir Apparent. The new show is based on Alexis Piron’s The Metromaniacs, an obscure work from the 17th century that satirizes Voltaire’s addiction to poetry and has never previously been translated into English.
Michael Kahn directs The Metromaniacs, as well as a second play, Pirandello’s Enrico IV (Henry IV), adapted by Tom Stoppard. It’s the Washington premiere of this particular show, coming ten years after it debuted in London’s West End. Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Alan Paul, who recently helmed the company’s holiday production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, directs another musical this season: Man of La Mancha, based on Cervantes’s Don Quixote, with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, and a book by Dale Wasserman. The show won five Tony Awards upon its debut in 1965, including one for Best Musical, and was most recently revived on Broadway in 2002 in a production starring Brian Stokes Mitchell.
One thing that’s missing from Shakespeare’s upcoming season is women: All of the productions that have currently been announced are written and directed by male artists. According to a recent story in the Washington Post, Kahn was one of six artistic directors in Washington to conceive the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, in which 44 local companies will stage world-premiere plays by female writers. That event is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2015.
OPENING THIS MONTH
Olney Theatre artistic director Jason Loewith helms this production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the 1961 Frank Loesser musical about an ambitious window washer who sets his sights on corporate glory. Through February 23.
Through February 23 at Theater J, Natsu Onoda Power directs Yellow Face, David Henry Hwang’s 2007 comedy about a playwright named David Henry Hwang who protests when a white actor is cast as an Asian in the musical Miss Saigon but who is then flummoxed when an actor he casts in an Asian role in one of his plays turns out to be white.
Drew Cortese (Studio’s The Motherf**ker With the Hat) returns to Washington to play Richard III at the Folger Theatre. Robert Richmond directs Shakespeare’s drama about the malfeasances of the British monarch. Through March 9.
Kathleen Turner stars as Bertolt Brecht’s battle-ax heroine attempting to survive war and personal loss in Mother Courage and Her Children, running January 31 through March 9 at Arena Stage. Molly Smith directs.
Swinging through the National Theatre February 4 through 9 is Stomp. The percussive-theater show—coming up on 23 years old—has spent the last decade playing in a new theater in Las Vegas, the Sydney Opera House, and the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.
February 5 through 23, Cultural DC presents Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Mead Theater Lab. Director Jess Jung puts a contemporary spin on the surreal show about a woman buried in a dirt.
February 5 through March 2, Round House Theatre presents Seminar. The Hollywood Reporter called Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play about a writing seminar in New York City “tight, witty, and consistently entertaining.”
Woolly Mammoth stages the epically titled We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. One of the New York Times’ top ten plays of 2012, it features six actors telling the story of an African tribe targeted by colonialists. February 10 through March 9.
February 13 through March 9, Spooky Action Theatre presents The Wedding Dress. Rebecca Holderness directs the show by Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues.
February 18 through 23, Signature Theatre stages the world premiere of Beaches, a musical by Iris Rainer Dart, David Austin, and Thom Thomas based on Dart’s novel about two unlikely friends (it also spawned a film starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey).
In An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, the two Broadway veterans grace the Kennedy Center with their god-given voices. Do you need to know more? February 18 through 23.
American Idiot comes to the National Theatre February 18 through 23. The punk-rock opera about disaffected youth in Middle America—based on the 2004 album by Green Day—was called “kinetically entertaining” by the Los Angeles Times and received a Tony nomination for Best Musical.
At Forum Theatre, artistic director Michael Dove directs Pluto, Steve Yockey’s play about a mother trying to have a normal day in the face of supernatural occurrences. February 20 through March 15.
February 20 through March 16, Washington Stage Guild presents Back to Methuselah, George Bernard Shaw’s early science-fiction work looking at the span of human life on earth.
The IN Series presents The Cole Porter Project February 22 through March 9. The show pays tribute to the American songwriter, known for such standards as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
It was a good night for one show with an F-bomb in the title but not so much for the other. Woolly Mammoth’s Stupid F**king Bird, a riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull by Aaron Posner, took home eight Helen Hayes Award nominations last night in a ceremony onstage at the National Theatre. Studio Theatre’s The Motherf**ker With the Hat, however, wasn’t so lucky—it failed to claim a single one.
In their last year under the current format before the awards divide into two categories (“Hayes” for primarily Equity shows and “Helen” for predominantly non-Equity productions), the Helen Hayes Awards will still be plenty different this year, with the ceremony moving to the National Building Museum, the awards being presented on two different stages, and the speeches streamlined to a slender 30 seconds (or so TheatreWashington promises). Also new is TheatreWashington board chair Kurt Crowl, who takes over from veteran Victor Shargai after 16 years and almost 30 with the organization.
With all this change afoot, perhaps it’s a relief that the nominations this year, on the 30th anniversary of the awards, are still as intriguing as ever. Posner’s Bird, a critically acclaimed and very funny show, gets top honors with nominations for Outstanding Direction (Howard Shalwitz), resident Play, Outstanding New Play, Ensemble, Lead Actor (Brad Koed), Supporting Actor (Rick Foucheux), and Supporting Actress (Kimberly Gilbert and Kate Eastwood Norris).
Following in its footsteps are Shakespeare Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which got seven nominations, including Outstanding Musical, Choreography, Direction, Ensemble, and Lead Actor (Bruce Dow); and Round House Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, which also scored seven. This year’s nominations, in which Round House picked up eight nods, would appear to be an endorsement of new artistic director Ryan Rilette, since the company scored only one nomination in 2013, two in 2012, and none in 2011.
In terms of institutions, Signature Theatre led the way with 20 nominations, six of which were for its co-production of Hello, Dolly! with Ford’s Theatre. The recent revival of Gypsy scored five, as did Aaron Posner’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Woolly Mammoth followed with 16 nominations, Shakespeare with 15, the Kennedy Center with 12, Arena Stage and Ford’s Theatre with 10, and the Folger Theatre and Studio Theatre tying with 9.
In any year, there will be surprises. I was gratified to see Shakespeare Theatre’s Mies Julie and the Kennedy Center’s Anything Goes rewarded among the “visiting” productions, but surprised to see not a single nomination for Shakespeare’s stellar The Winter’s Tale and only one (in lighting design) for the Folger’s outstanding Henry V. The awards are heavily skewed by nature to favor musicals, which tend to be less frequently produced by companies around town, but Signature’s production of Company, a terrific ensemble production by Eric Schaeffer, only scored a single nomination, for Erin Weaver as Outstanding Supporting Actress (who mightily deserved it, given the syllables she had to spew out in the frantic “Getting Married Today”).
Weaver was also nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Play for her performance in the Folger’s Romeo and Juliet, and Lead Actress, Resident Musical for The Last Five Years, meaning she and her husband, Posner (nominated for his direction of both shows, as well as Stupid F**king Bird), took home more nominations between them than Theater J (one nomination), Forum Theatre (one), and Synetic Theater (two) put together.
What are your thoughts on this year’s Helen Hayes Awards nominations? Peruse the full list below and let us know in the comments.
Meena’s Dream, a play by Anu Yadav—set to a live, original score by three musicians combining South Indian classical traditions, contemporary jazz, and indie rock—premieres January 8 through 19 in a Forum Theatre production at Round House Theatre Silver Spring. Yadav, an 11-time recipient of a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities grant, is best known for her 2004 one-woman show, ’Capers, in which she played residents protesting the demolition of a DC public-housing project. Writer Ann Blackman talked with her.
What’s Meena’s Dream about?
It’s the coming-of-age tale of a nine-year-old Indian-American girl whose mother is severely ill and cannot afford the medicine she needs. Frightened that her mother will die, Meena imagines that Hindu God Lord Krishna comes to her to ask for help in fighting a mysterious force known as the Worry Machine, which is threatening to destroy her world. Meena’s powerful actions remind her mother that she doesn’t have to face her health struggles alone.
What prompted you to write it?
My dad passed away when I was 12, and things weren’t easy for my family. My mother had to take several jobs while going to night school, and I worried she would die, too. I had a recurrent dream that Krishna was sitting on my bookcase, but when I woke up, nothing was there. My imagination became a way to escape and cope. I decided to use this as inspiration.
The issues of poverty, trauma, and faith run through your work. What do you want an audience to take away from this play?
We are at a point in our society where wealth inequality is ever-widening. Reality shows are mostly about absurdly wealthy people, when in reality so many are losing jobs and homes and going without. It’s like a sweater unraveling, and right now these stories are not being shared. If, as a child, I had known that other people struggled, I might have coped better, but these were not things we talked about. Even now, we don’t know how to talk about them. So I want to share stories about people’s lives from the perspective of the people themselves. I’m hoping this play can provoke a dialogue about these contradictions. We need community. I want to remind people of that.
Tickets $20 in advance at forum-theatre.com; by donation at the door.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Opening This Month
January 2 through 26, Washington Stage Guild has the local premiere of The Old Masters, Simon Gray’s play about an art critic and an art dealer who meet outside Florence early in Mussolini’s regime.
January 8 through 19, Forum Theatre presents Meena’s Dream, a new play by Anu Yadav about a young Indian-American girl who asks for supernatural help when her mother is gravely ill.
At Studio Theatre January 8 through February 23, David Muse directs Tribes, British playwright Nina Raine’s comedy/drama about a young deaf man at odds with his family over the best way to communicate.
Synetic Theater takes on Twelfth Night as the latest work in its Silent Shakespeare series. Company cofounder Irina Tsikurishvili stars as Viola. January 9 through February 16.
January 10 through February 16 at Arena Stage, Daniel Beaty stars in The Tallest Tree in the Forest, a show by Beaty about actor/singer and civil-rights activist Paul Robeson. Tectonic Theater Project’s Moisés Kaufman directs.
At the Anacostia Playhouse January 11 through February 2 is The Gin Game, Donald L. Coburn’s Pulitzer-winning play about a couple who make friends in a nursing home. Playhouse owner Adele Robey stars.
Constellation Theatre Company presents Scapin, an adaptation of Molière’s comedy about the scheming servant of a wealthy man. At Source January 16 through February 16.
January 16 through March 2, Shakespeare Theatre presents The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Keith Baxter directs.
Rorschach Theatre stages Glassheart, Reina Hardy’s contemporary spin on the story of Beauty and the Beast. January 17 through February 16.
Maurice Hines, who until recently was starring in his own show at Arena, directs Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady of Song at MetroStage, a show he also conceived and choreographed. January 23 through March 15.
At Ford’s Theatre, Jeff Calhoun (Newsies) directs Violet, a musical adaptation of Doris Betts’ The Ugliest Pilgrim, about a disfigured young woman who travels to Tulsa to be healed. January 24 through February 23.
Keegan Theatre presents The Best Man, Gore Vidal’s play about two political candidates going head to head during primary season. January 25 through February 22.
At the Kennedy Center January 28 through February 16 is Peter and the Starcatcher, a Peter Pan prequel adapted from a 2004 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. The show won five Tony Awards in 2012.
January 28 through March 9, the Folger stages Richard III, Shakespeare’s account of the monarch’s path to the throne and his short-lived reign. Drew Cortese stars.
January 29 through February 23, Olney Theatre presents How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1961.
January 29 through February 23, Natsu Onoda Power directs David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face at Theater J. The show explores notions of race, culture, and identity.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum closes at Shakespeare Theatre January 5. Our review.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner closes at Arena Stage January 5. Our review.
The Apple Family Plays close January 5 at Studio Theatre. Our review.
Elf the Musical closes at the Kennedy Center January 5. Our review.
The Pajama Men: Just the Two of Each of Us closes January 5 at Woolly Mammoth. Our review.
Edgar and Annabel closes at Studio Theatre January 12. Our review.
Our Suburb closes at Theater J January 12.
The King and I closes at Olney Theatre January 12.
Flashdance—the Musical closes at the Kennedy Center January 19. Our review.
Gypsy closes at Signature Theatre January 26. Our review.
January 6 and 13, NT Live screens Frankenstein from the National Theatre in London, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in alternate roles on both dates.
January 17 through 19, the In Series and the Washington Ballet Studio Company join forces for La Vie En Rose, a show celebrating French culture from Berlioz to Edith Piaf.
Performer Natascia Diaz performs in two cabaret shows at Strathmore January 25.
Porgy and Bess is one of the 20th century’s most beloved and divisive works of art. In 1936, it was the first show to play to a desegregated audience at DC’s National Theatre after protests by cast members Anne Brown and Todd Duncan, and though it fell out of favor in the ’60s and ’70s because of concerns about its portrayal of African-Americans, it’s now generally considered the first great American opera.
The composer/lyricist team of George and Ira Gershwin worked with author DuBose Heyward on the tale of a crippled man who falls in love with a drug-addicted woman in a South Carolina tenement. Director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan Lori-Parks’s adaptation, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, comes to the National December 25 through 29 after winning two Tonys for its Broadway run—as well as provoking the ire of Stephen Sondheim, who, before previews had started, described the dramatically beefed-up production as “dismaying” in a letter to the New York Times.
Paulus—artistic director of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts—says the controversy proved how powerful Porgy is. She started work on the show in 2010 after being approached by the Gershwin estate to helm a revival that would be a musical, not an opera, and that would flesh out the characters and strengthen the plot. “That was the departure point for me, that we weren’t there to portray stereotypes,” Paulus says. “Every performer was asked to bring every ounce of their humanity to their roles, along with researching their history and what it would have been like to live on Catfish Row in the late 1930s in South Carolina.”
Paulus’s version replaces sung recitative with spoken dialogue and trims the show to 2½ hours. “It is simple to the point of primal,” wrote Ben Brantley of the Times while praising the stars for drawing out the show’s tempestuous emotions. Says Paulus: “That’s the job of theater—to plumb the depths of emotion and truth. Porgy gives you such a rich, complicated story of love and self-acceptance and what it means to survive.”
The Washington run is notable for other reasons. Alicia Hall Moran, who plays Bess, is married to pianist Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic adviser for jazz, and Sumayya Ali (Clara) is a graduate of DC’s Duke Ellington School.
For the whole creative team, bringing the show to the National—under new management and enjoying a return to its roots as a Broadway-tryout house—feels like paying tribute to Brown and Duncan and their efforts to make Porgy accessible to everyone. Says Paulus: “We stand on their shoulders.”
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, December 25 through 29 at the National Theatre. Tickets ($48 to $98) available at thenationaldc.org.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.