Opening This Month
John Malkovich, who starred as the immoral Vicomte de Valmont in the movie Dangerous Liaisons, directs a French-language version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses presented by the Théâtre de l’Atelier at Shakespeare Theatre. December 6 through 9.
Georgetown professor and playwright Natsu Onoda Power, whose acclaimed Astro Boy and the God of Comics was produced this year at Studio Theatre, directs A Trip to the Moon at Synetic Theater. The play is based on a 1902 silent film by Georges Méliès featuring six astronomers who head to the moon, where they encounter comets, aliens, and the moon goddess Phoebe. December 6 through January 6.
The Hub Theatre presents How I Paid for College, Marc Acito’s world premiere about a Bueller-esque teen who turns to crime to pay for acting school. December 7 through 30.
Woolly Mammoth welcomes comedy duo the Pajama Men and their show In the Middle of No One. The Guardian described the surreal fusion of improv and theater—sold out in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe—as “comic bliss.” December 11 through January 6.
Just in time for the movie adaptation, the 25th-anniversary tour of Les Misérables returns to DC, playing at the National Theatre. Peter Lockyer stars as Jean Valjean, with Genevieve Leclerc as Fantine. December 12 through 30.
Apples from the Desert, Savyon Liebrecht’s Isreali hit, gets its Washington premiere at Theater J. The show, about a religious teenager who flees her Orthodox upbringing to follow the man she loves, was adapted by Liebrecht from her 2000 short story. December 15 through January 6.
Million Dollar Quartet, the Broadway hit about a legendary recording session by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, comes to the Kennedy Center December 18 through January 6. Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer directs.
At Studio Theatre, artistic director David Muse directs An Iliad, Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s contemporary spin on Homer’s epic. The one-man, 100-minute adaptation stars Scott Parkinson as the poet. December 21 through January 13.
Christmas Carols, Scrooge-Style
Ford’s Theatre brings back its popular production of A Christmas Carol, starring Edward Gero as Scrooge. Through December 30.
At Olney, local actor/director Paul Morella also reprises his pared-down version of the classic, based more heavily on Dickens’s original text. November 30 through December 30.
MetroStage has A Broadway Christmas Carol playing through December 23.
Also in Old Town, the Little Theatre of Alexandria stages A Christmas Carol November 30 through December 16.
Meanwhile Keegan Theatre’s
An Irish Carol, an “homage” to the Dickens story, plays at the Church Street Theatre December 14
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the stage adaptation of the film classic, runs December 11 through January 6 in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.
Theater Alliance stages the local premiere of The Night Before Christmas, a new comic riff on the classic tale. Through December 29 at H Street Playhouse.
December 14 through 23, Signature stages The Holiday Guys, a song-and-dance show featuring three-time Tony nominee Marc Kudisch and Jeffry Denman.
December 18 through 23 Signature also stages “Holiday Follies,” a cabaret series featuring local artists and performers.
For Massachusetts-bred playwright Annie Baker, success came from an unexpected source: Vermont. “It’s hard for me to look back on the me of 2008 and realize why I was so into the state,” Baker says. “It’s more like Vermont happened to me. This imaginary small town sort of sprang out of my brain.”
The first of her Vermont plays, Body Awareness—about a lesbian couple, their possibly Asperger’s-afflicted son, and an artist who photographs nudes—was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards in 2009 and had a well-received run earlier this season at DC’s Theater J. The Obie Award-winning Circle Mirror Transformation—a comedy about an acting class in the same fictional town of Shirley, Vermont—followed, winning Baker local fans when it played at Studio Theatre in 2010.
This month, Studio presents Baker’s The Aliens. The story of two “townies” outside a Shirley coffee shop who enlist a teen into their crew, it was inspired by her childhood in Amherst. The characters are “the guys I grew up with,” says Baker, 31. “The people who made bonfires and played music at 4 in the morning next to Puffer’s Pond. Most of them wanted to be artists, and many years later I realized they were.”
Her Vermont phase over, she continues to work on new projects, including an adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya that ran at New York’s Soho Rep this year. Despite her success, Baker describes her writing routine as “dysfunctional—if I had more self-discipline I would wake up at 8, dance until 10, read until 1, and write from 2 to 7. That’s the perfect day.”
The Aliens, November 14 through December 23. Tickets ($39 to $72) at studiotheatre.org.
This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Any long and bruising campaign season relies on the concept of the American Dream, baiting the nation with both the glow of its promise and the threat of its fiery demise. Arthur Miller’s talent for carefully wielding the power of those same extremes in his works was originally refined in All My Sons, the playwright’s first commercial success and winner of the Drama Critics’ Award for Best New Play in 1947. Now playing on the Keegan Theatre’s Church Street stage, director Susan Marie Rhea’s production of Sons wisely taps the weighty (and timely) disillusionment of a country at a crossroads and uses it as a backdrop for Miller’s go-to messages of raw ambition, disappointment, guilt, and forgiveness. The production stops just short of its full potential, but is affecting all the same.
Opening This Month
November 1 through 18, Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue revives its production of The Brontes, which had an acclaimed run earlier this year at the Capital Fringe Festival.
Arena Stage’s production of My Fair Lady, directed by Molly Smith and starring Manna Nichols and Benedict Campbell, opens November 3 after a one-day Sandy delay. The show was a hit when it debuted at Canada’s prestigious Shaw Festival.
November 3 through 25 at Woolly Mammoth, new company the Edge of the Universe 2 presents Atheist’s Paradise, a play exploring questions of philosophy, religion, and more.
Keegan Theatre presents All My Sons, the drama that helped launch playwright Arthur Miller’s career. The post-World War II play is about two families destroyed by their patriarch’s guilt. November 3 through December 1.
November 5 through December 2, Woolly Mammoth presents Mia Chung’s You for Me for You, a drama about two sisters fleeing North Korea who get separated when one is too weak to make the journey.
November 8 through December 2, Theater J stages Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie. The musical celebrates the 100th birthday of the folk legend.
Secrets, says Frank Warren, are “the currency of intimacy.” He knows, because he has more than half a million stashed in his basement. The Germantown resident is the founder of the website PostSecret, which was launched in 2005 as an art project and has since evolved into an online community with more than half a billion pageviews.
Each Sunday, Warren curates a selection of 24 handmade postcards from the several thousand that arrive in his mailbox weekly, and posts them on the site. The secrets range from heartfelt (“I’ve had four new cell phones since my father died three years ago, and I still add his number to my contact list”) to humorous (“When no one is looking, I walk up the stairs on all fours. I’m 30 years old”). PostSecret has spawned five books, speaking tours all over the world, and an iPhone app, but the website is currently undergoing its biggest transformation yet—from a blog to a piece of live theater.
The genesis of the PostSecret play started in 2010, when three Canada-based artists and producers—actor and consultant Kahlil Ashanti, talent manager Justin Sudds, and playwright and performer TJ Dawes—were looking for a new theater project. For the past six years, Ashanti had been performing his own one-man show, Basic Training, which had run to sold-out houses three times at the Edinburgh Fringe and been touted as a New York Times critics’ pick during its off-Broadway run. In the autobiographical piece, Ashanti describes how he felt as a teenager about to join the Air Force when his mother finally revealed that the abusive man he’d grown up with was not his father.
During his 40-year career as a director, performer, and playwright, Tazewell Thompson has helmed an Emmy Award-nominated production of Porgy and Bess screened live from Lincoln Center, worked at the Public Theater, the Roundabout Theatre, La Scala, and the New York City Opera, and seen his play, Constant Star, performed at Arena Stage. And yet despite being accustomed to excellence, he is currently awed by the Norfolk-based Virginia Opera. “The chorus is just positively, absolutely, unbelievably gorgeous sounding,” he says.
Thompson is currently directing the Virginia Opera in a production of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, which the company will perform at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts October 12 and 14. This is his first time working with both. “I’ve had a date with Virginia Opera for quite some time just as an audience member, so I’m delighted to come here now as a director,” he says.
The Pearl Fishers, written by Bizet at the age of 24, is set in Ceylon, and tells the story of two fisherman, Nadir and Zurga, and a priestess with whom both fall in love. “It just burns passionately with [Bizet’s] youthful zeal and excitement,” says Thompson. “There’s the love triangle, which is key, but I was also fascinated by the question of which is more powerful—love or friendship? For this particular society in Pearl Fishers, a “friend” meant somebody you would sacrifice your life for.”
Thompson first became aware of the Virginia Opera in 1990 when he was directing a production of August Wilson’s Fences at Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk. Founded in 1974 and designated as the state’s official opera institution 20 years later, the company produces five productions each year, staged in Richmond, Norfolk, and Fairfax. “I’ve worked all over the country and in Europe, and I keep telling them over and over that they’re really outstanding,” says Thompson. “I don’t know how long most of them have been with the chorus, but they all have, for the most part, full-time jobs, so they come to this after they’ve been working all day and they’re so skillful and eager and able. Their sound is absolutely glorious.”
OPENING THIS MONTH
Signature Theatre presents the local premiere of Christopher Shinn’s 2006 play, Dying City, about a man whose twin brother has died in Iraq and who shows up at the apartment of his brother’s widow. The New York Times called it “a quiet, transfixing tale of grief and violence.” October 2 through November 25.
October 6 through November 18, Scena Theatre presents an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. The play was written by Burgess himself after the release of Stanley Kubrick’s movie, and includes the book’s original ending.
Theater J stages Our Class, Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s play about the relationship between Catholic and Jewish classmates growing up in Poland. The drama, which spans 1926 to 2006, was described as “riveting” by the Guardian when it ran at London’s National Theatre in 2009. October 10 through November 4.
October 11 through November 5, Washington Improv Theater presents POTUS Among Us, an election-themed improv show at Source.
Ireland’s Druid Theater Company returns to the Kennedy Center following last year’s acclaimed The Cripple of Inishmaan. This time it presents three works by contemporary playwright Tom Murphy— Conversations on a Homecoming October 17, A Whistle in the Dark October 18, and Famine October 19. They’re also performed consecutively on October 20.
Jaylee Mead, who died of congestive heart failure at her Watergate apartment yesterday, always had her eyes on the stars. She was an astronomer at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt when she and her late husband, Gilbert Mead, an astrophysicist, joined Goddard’s amateur theater group and discovered their mutual love of musicals.
Gilbert played the piano and often served as musical director. Jaylee got on stage and loved it. She appeared in several productions, including Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin, in which she played the title role.
The Meads didn’t have much experience with professional theater when they first ventured to downtown DC to see a show. It was an experience that transformed them both, she would later say.
Shakespeare’s Globe brings its acclaimed, pared-down production of Hamlet from London to Capitol Hill’s Folger Theatre September 8 through 22—something Folger artistic producer Janet Alexander Griffin has long hoped to see: “They’re the Shakespeare theater of record, we’re the library of record. This is the result of a couple of summers of trying to figure out how we could collaborate.” Codirector Dominic Dromgoole has trimmed the show to 2½ hours, and his production uses just eight actors for more than a dozen characters. Griffin says Dromgoole has also found ways to enhance the humor in the tragic play, resulting in an interpretation London’s Daily Telegraph praised as “fast, fresh, and lucid.” Though this is the Globe’s first trip to DC, one cast member is familiar with the city. Michael Benz, who plays the title role, got an undergrad degree at Georgetown and, while a student, performed in local productions of Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing before heading to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
With just 250 seats, the Folger offers a more intimate experience than the Globe, which can host 3,000 seated and standing. Built in 1599 to host Shakespeare’s company, the structure was demolished in 1644 before being rebuilt thanks to the efforts of actor and director Sam Wanamaker. Griffin hopes the Folger production will allow audiences to find something new in a classic drama: “Dominic is a very exciting director—he’s smart and a little edgy. It’ll be interesting to see what he’s made of the greatest play in the English language.”
Tickets ($60 to $85) at folger.edu.
This article appears in the September 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.