In Thursday's edition of the Washington Post, drama critic Peter Marks got to write what so many writers who cover DC's theater scene have longed to: Shear Madness, the audience-participation, pop-reference-heavy comedy that has been the sole occupant of the Kennedy Center's so-called Theater Lab since 1987, is finally going to have to share the space, and maybe even leave for good.
The Kennedy Center's decision to finally reassess Shear Madness's perch comes with the announcement of an ambitious comedy lineup planned for 2016 that will include shows by big-name standups including Tracy Morgan, Jane Lynch, Norm Macdonald, and Dick Gregory, as well as newer acts like Colleen Ballinger, who is taking her YouTube character Miranda Sings live.
While the individual comedians will perform on the Kennedy Center's other stages, Marks reports, Shear Madness will get bumped next summer for a production by Chicago's Second City. And he also reports that Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter is considering evicting the show entirely.
On October 29, Mosaic Theater Company launched its inaugural six-play season with Unexplored Interior, a sweeping exploration of the political and social forces behind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
It’s not every day that a much lauded--yet deeply controversial--theater player makes such an ambitious comeback. Mosaic artistic director Ari Roth spent 18 years at Theater J until his firing turned into a public relations fiasco last year. He didn’t leave quietly. In less than a year, he raised $1.6 million for his new venture, a highly anticipated company dedicated to provocative, socially conscious theater.
“I’ve come to believe audiences come to see portraits of themselves,” Roth says. “[Unexplored Interior] was a great starting point because it is smart enough to invoke our passivity to the plights of so many others who have suffered.”
David Arquette is no stranger to solving mysteries--or attempting to, anyway. Best known for his role as the bumbling Sheriff Dewey Riley in the Scream films, he'll don the famous Inverness-tweed cape and take the stage as the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes for a weeklong run at the Warner Theatre.
Sherlock Holmes, a recent adaption by the late playwright Greg Kramer, weaves characters and plotlines from several of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales into a swift-paced mystery with a modern sheen. Director Andrew Shaver, whose 2013 Montreal production drew sell-out audiences and critical acclaim, will remount the show for a North American tour, arriving in Washington November 17 through 22.
Come December, Charles Randolph-Wright will have two plays showing in Washington at the same time. An adaptation of Akeelah and the Bee, which debuted in Minneapolis, will open at the Arena Stage on November 13. On December 1, Broadway hit Motown the Musical will arrive at the National Theatre. “It’s thrilling,” Randolph-Wright says. “DC is like a second home.”
Following a nearly year-long transitional period, the Washington DCJCC has announced the hiring of Adam Immerwahr as Theater J's new artistic director.
Immerwahr comes to Washington from Princeton, New Jersey, where he worked as the associate artistic director at the McCarter Theatre Center and formed part of the producing team that premiered Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, starring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. The play moved on to Broadway and won a Tony Award for Best Play. (DC's Arena Stage presented the comedy this past spring.)
"Theater J has an extraordinary legacy of doing important, bold, provocative, engaging work," Immerwahr says. "I'm thrilled to build upon that legacy and open its next chapter."
Drama unfolded within the theater's staff last year, when the center's chief executive fired Ari Roth, the theater's former artistic director. Known for putting on provocative plays that pushed the boundaries on Israel, Roth went on to found the Mosaic Theater Company on H Street Northeast.
The Guard, a comedic drama playing at Ford’s Theatre, explores the untold stories of great art works. Playwright Jessica Dickey imagines what would happen if a painting or sculpture could transport the viewer to its time of creation, revealing insights that died along with the artist. She explores the idea in four scenes, each unfolding in a different location and time period.
James Kronzer, an eight-time Helen Hayes Award-winning scenic designer, made this elaborate vision a reality through a series of towering set pieces positioned on a revolving stage. Between scenes, the pieces gracefully rotate and reassemble, making the play’s ambitious time-traveling premise much easier to accept. “I always get more excited when it’s more challenging and you have to try to figure it out,” he says of the design process. “You always have to find a strong way into it. The challenge is to not let the problem-solving overwhelm the storytelling.”
Carole King's music was the soundtrack of my youth. Like many in the Kennedy Center audience, I could easily have sung along with every song. But nostalgia aside, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical delivers nearly three hours of great music delivered by dynamite voices and, as Dick Clark used to say on American Bandstand: "It has a great beat and you can dance to it.”
From the moment the lights come up on Bad Dog at Olney Theatre Center, anti-heroine Molly Drexler’s (Holly Twyford) reputation precedes her. Smack in the middle of a modest house--ingeniously designed by Tony Cisek--the audience is confronted by a chasmal hole in the living room wall, covered with a duct-taped web of mismatched garbage bags.
Molly’s older sisters—Becky (Amy McWilliams) and Linda (Emily Townley)—sweep in with an air of exasperated resignation, making preparations for a family intervention for their youngest sister, nicknamed “Hurricane Molly.” Concern turns quickly to chiding as they recount Molly’s plunge “off the wagon,” ending in a drunken joy ride in her Prius--through her own living room wall.
When Molly enters, bruised and battered, arm in a sling and dressed like an overgrown teenager, she looks every bit the family deadbeat. But when she opens her mouth, she's quick-witted, ebullient, and bitingly funny. Molly is not just the family screw-up, but also the fixer, playfully deflecting conflict with pithy quips and self-deprecation.
Signature Theatre; September 29-November 22
Signature turns up the heat in this musical—a batter-soaked battle-of-the-sexes comedy filled with juicy jabs and delicious zingers. Playwright Sheri Wilner's satire is set to a score by Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad) and Adam Gwon. Let the flour fly! $40 to $96.
Destiny of Desire
Arena Stage; September 11-October 18
You don't need a Latin lineage (or passable Spanish) to savor a spicy telenovela. This play opens on a dark and stormy night in Mexico, where two newborns are switched at birth by a conniving beauty queen. Playwright Karen ZacarÃas defies expectations in this comedy about the roles we play onscreen and off. $40 to $90.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; September 7-October 4
Inspired by an internet meme, this world premiere is a biting look at our thinness-obsessed culture. When a twentysomething guy is tempted by a self-conscious new gal, the world--including his diet-obsessed girlfriend and former old-school feminist mother--rallies against him. $35 to $73.
Washington's nonprofit theaters have staged more productions by women than their counterparts in New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, according to a recent study released by the Dramatists Guild of America and the Lilly Awards. Out of 104 productions put on here in the past three seasons, 30 percent were written by female playwrights.
Though New York put on a whopping 234 productions, only a quarter were by women. By comparison, 23 percent of plays in Los Angeles, which had 74 productions, were written by women. Washington ranked behind only Chicago, where out of 120 productions, 36 percent were written by women.
To get these numbers, guild representatives and volunteers combed through 2,508 productions-- put on by well-established, nonprofit theaters across the country, between 2011 and 2014. (Small companies, Broadway, and other for-profit theaters were excluded from the study.) Nationwide, they found, only 22 percent of plays were written by women. That number has crept up slightly over the last decade. In 2002, the New York State Council on the Arts reported that 17 percent of productions nationwide were by female playwrights.
"The important take-away from these studies," says Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, "is that women playwrights are an important voice that has been and is overlooked more often than not."
In 2013, Smith met with the artistic directors of six other local theaters--including Studio, Signature, and Ford's--and discussed gender disparity. That discussion led them to hatch plans for a festival of female-written plays. This fall, following years of planning, more than 50 Washington theaters join the Women's Voices Theater Festival, featuring a wide-range of world-premiere plays by women. Productions include everything from a one-woman show (Queens Girl in the World by Caleen Sinnette Jennings at Theater J) to musicals (Cake Off by Sheri Wilner, Julia Jordan, and Adam Gwon at Signature Theatre).
Michelle Obama serves as honorary chair for the two-month festival, which kicks off in late September.
Update: An earlier version of this article stated Smith met with the artistic directors of seven local theaters. The correct number is six.