- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2000


This fall's theater season promises a character-building dose of tragedy along with enough comedy to keep things from getting too Strindbergian.
The Kennedy Center will wake the dead with "Blast" and then evoke the dear departed in James Joyce's "The Dead." The season opens in October at the center's Eisenhower Theater with the musical adaptation of Joyce's short story, which also was an atmospheric John Huston movie starring Mr. Huston's daughter, Anjelica.
"The Dead," which endured a controversial run on Broadway in 1999-2000 (critics and audiences either loved it or loathed it), managed to wrangle a Tony for best book of a musical and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best musical. It will run Oct. 14 through Nov. 12 and tells of three elderly sisters, all music teachers, gathered with family and friends at their annual Christmas party in turn-of-the-century Ireland. The songs are by Tony-nominated Richard Nelson (lyrics) and Shaun Davey (music).
From Dec. 19 through Jan. 14, the Opera House brings its own brand of 76 trombones with "Blast," a combination of "Stomp" and the cheerleader movie "Bring It On."
"Blast" compromised the eardrums of sellout audiences in London and will play the Kennedy Center before its Broadway run. The antidote-to-serenity musical combines trumpets and other brass, drums and the syncopated precision of a drill team. The cast of 68 is dexterous, both musically and gymnastically. Music of all kinds fills the stage while cast members march, leap, twirl like living batons and sometimes rush down the aisles.
Theatrical fireworks of a different sort will go off at the Eisenhower in February, with August Wilson's "King Hedley II," playing Feb. 23 through March 25. Mr. Wilson's chronicle of 20th-century black American life — as seen in his plays "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "The Piano," "Seven Guitars," "Fences," "Two Trains Running" and "Jitney" — continues with this operatic comic tragedy featuring the offspring of Hedley, a character first seen in "Seven Guitars."
As with Mr. Wilson's other plays, the story is set in Pittsburgh (where the play premiered to positive reviews in January), this time in the 1980s. The title character is one of a group of neighborhood folks wrestling with Reaganomics and trying to dodge the bullets and the violence that have begun to claim the children in their midst.
The Shakespeare Theatre's 2000-01 season gets off to a roaring start with "Timon of Athens," which runs through Oct. 22 and, serendipitously enough, also is set in the 1980s. This is the first time "Timon" will be seen at the Shakespeare Theatre. It features Philip Goodwin in the title role, Emery Battis as Timon's steward Flavius and Ted van Griethuysen as Apemantus. The play, directed by Michael Kahn, examines a man's unraveling from benevolent nobleman to misanthropic recluse.
Next up is "Richard II" (Nov. 7 through Dec. 31). Richard — not the hunchback and the one willing to give his kingdom for a horse — is more philosopher than king and an intelligent, but ineffectual, monarch. The first in Shakespeare's second cycle of history plays, "Richard II" is written entirely in verse. This makes it one of the playwright's more musical creations. The always surprising Wallace Acton stars as Richard. He leads a cast that includes Tana Hicken as the Duchess of York, Andrew Long as Bolingbroke and David Sabin as the Duke of York.
From the corridors of power to the dance floor are some of the journeys theatergoers will take this season. Signature Theatre in Arlington presents "The Rhythm Club," the world premiere of a Broadway-bound musical, through Oct. 22. Under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, "The Rhythm Club" takes audiences into the hottest underground swing club in Hamburg, Germany, in 1938.
This swinging jazz musical will be followed by "In the Absence of Spring" (Nov. 7 through Dec. 17). "Absence" is written and directed by Joe Calarco, who directed Signature's outstanding productions of "Nijinsky's Last Dance" and "Side Show." Five years after the event, survivors of a plane crash struggle with death, sex and intimacy in a 24-hour period until a catastrophic act sends them spiraling into a night journey filled with dreams, time travel and ghostly apparitions.
Arena Stage kicks off its 50th-anniversary season by coming out swinging with "The Great White Hope," running through Oct. 15. Howard Sackler's Pulitzer Prize-winning play — based loosely on the life of Jack Johnson — premiered at Arena in 1967 and was the first regional production to transfer to Broadway. The nation reels in shock when a charismatic black boxer captures the world heavyweight title belt from a white champion in 1908. At the center of the storm is Jack Jefferson (the name used in the play), the willful young victor, who is enthralled with a white woman the world cannot accept as his lover.
The Kreeger Theater at Arena exits the boxing ring for another sparring site — the home — in the "Pleasure of Seeing Her Again" (through Oct. 29) by Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay. The play is a portrait of one remarkable mother — a woman who is exasperating, given to reckless hyperbole and extravagant with her emotions but, most of all, wonderful.
The holiday show at Arena takes the A Train in "Play On" (Nov. 3 through Jan. 7), a sassy new musical in which Duke Ellington's elegant jazz is married with Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. The show features the Ellington classics "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Mood Indigo" and "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing."
Another reprise, "K2," wraps up the fall season at Arena. It galvanized Washington audiences in 1982 with its stupendous mountaintop set and gripping yarn. The dangerous K2 mountain seduces two audacious climbers — friends for life — who risk everything to answer the peak's siren call.
Over at the Source Theatre Company, a season of what Artistic Director Joe Banno calls "angry-funny" plays commences with "Closer," beckoning through Oct. 8. Patrick Marber's play is about the nocturnal roamings of four persons who are equally predatory and desperately lonely.
"Chesapeake" follows from Dec. 1 through Jan. 7. Lee Blessing's one-character work centers on a right-wing senator and his beloved dog (transformed from a radical performance artist) and how the politico tries to get even with those who worked to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Theatre J pushes the envelope of what people might think a Jewish theater is with an ambitious season that begins with "Via Dolorosa" (Nov. 2 through 26), David Hare's play dealing with the writer's critical and benign impressions of Israel.
Up the street and around the block, Studio Theatre launches into a year of creative, contemporary plays, starting with "Vigil" (now through Oct. 15), starring Washington favorite Floyd King.
Mr. King plays the eccentric Kemp, who comes to care for his sickly Aunt Grace in hopes of inheriting her house in this outrageous two-character comedy by Canadian playwright Morris Panych. Through a series of twisted circumstances, their relationship transforms itself into something deliciously absurd and tender.
Speaking of Canada, one of the country's top performance artists, Daniel MacIvor, will appear at Studio for one week, Nov. 19 through 26, in "In on It." Mr. MacIvor writes and directs himself and Darren O'Donnell as they play This One (the good one) and That One (the bad one), who in turn play various pairs of alter-ego characters.
Those Canadians are all over the place. They infiltrated Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company with its opening play, George F. Walker's "Heaven," which runs through Oct. 1. The play examines a spectrum of contemporary urban tensions — black vs. white, Catholic vs. Jew, haves vs. have-nots. Set around an urban park bench, "Heaven" focuses on Jimmy (Mitchell Hebert), an Irish-Catholic human rights lawyer grappling with his own unshakable prejudices.
NEA poster child Holly Hughes brings her anarchic brand of wit and outrage to Woolly beginning Oct. 30 with "Preaching to the Perverted," written and performed by the performance artist herself.
Round House Theatre uncoils its 2000-01 season with "Snakebit" (through Oct. 1), David Marshall Grant's story of friendship in crisis that is smartly written and features clever dialogue and a round of surprising plot twists. Set in Los Angeles, where all of the characters face major life-altering events, the story comically unfurls. What seems a rather straightforward story takes a series of dips and swerves.
What better way to commemorate all that Charles Schulz brought to the world than with a revival of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"? Running Oct. 25 through Nov. 19, "Charlie Brown" was staged on Broadway last year to great acclaim and won a Tony Award for Kristin Chenowith, who played Sally. This wry and witty musical, based on the beloved comic strip, evokes as much happiness as a warm puppy.
Another Maryland theater, Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, continues its season with Jean Giraudoux's "The Madwoman of Chaillot," starring the cherished actress Halo Wines, who directed a deliciously fluffy "Tartuffe" at Olney in the spring. Jim Petosa directs this barbed satire about society from Oct. 10 through Nov. 12.
Olney's season winds up with "Man of La Mancha," the musical adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" that celebrates natural nobility and dogged idealism. You can dream the impossible dream from Nov. 21 through Dec. 24.
In Howard County, Rep Stage in Columbia begins with "Lonesome West" (Friday through Oct. 15), a bleak comedy about rivalry by Martin McDonagh, the Irish playwright who penned "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."
Ford's Theatre will present a dynamic acting duo, Robert Prosky and James Whitmore, in a revival of "Inherit the Wind," running Sept. 26 through Nov. 5. The drama by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence is about the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial."
The Stanislavsky Theater Studio, founded by Soviet emigres, opens the season with a reprise of its successful adaptation of Feodor Dostoevski's "The Idiot," playing through Oct. 8. Next, the company will interpret Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust" (Nov. 15 through Dec. 17).
Theater of the First Amendment, the professional theater company of George Mason University in Fairfax, is staging Brian Johnston's new translation of Henrik Ibsen's "The Lady From the Sea" through Oct. 1. The American Century Theater in Arlington plans "Hollywood Pinafore," George S. Kaufman's recently restored satire on Hollywood, an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore," through Oct. 14.
The Washington Stage Guild will present Michael MacLiammoir's "Ill Met by Moonlight" from Oct. 26 through Nov. 26.
At the National Theatre, the Tony Award-winning musical "Fosse" will play from Dec. 5 through the end of the year.The not-for-the-kiddies theater company Cherry Red Productions puts its perverse spin on Shakespeare's tragedy "Romeo and Juliet," retitled "Romeo and Juliatric." The fated lovers are geezers in this production, which will be performed at the Metro Cafe on 14th Street through Oct. 14.

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