- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

The magic of the two “Ks” — Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn — helped make Saturday’s kickoff of the six-month-long Shakespeare In Washington festival a truly celebratory occasion. The two arts impresarios conceived the unprecedented collaborative venture that involves about 60 local cultural organizations offering more than 100 programs, many of them free, for a total of 500 or more performances.

Even Mayor Adrian M. Fenty got into the act taking place just hours before his inaugural ball at the Convention Center. Just about everyone else — an ecstatic group of patrons, actors and festival arts participants — stayed to jam the Kennedy Center’s Box Tier for a party following a free public reading on the Concert Hall stage of the Bard’s comic “Twelfth Night,” performed with gusto by Mr. Kahn’s talented, handpicked 19-member cast.

“The play was originally done on the twelfth night after Christmas for [England’s] Elizabeth I,” were the authoritative words of Lady (Catherine) Manning, wife of the British ambassador, who joined well-wishers at the reception.

As festival curator, what was Mr. Kahn’s greatest challenge? “I really didn’t think anyone would come,” he modestly stated of the opening event.

Surprise: Thousands lined up as early as 1 p.m. to get into the 6 p.m. show, and hundreds had to be turned away. Playwright Edward Albee, attending a production next door of his play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” very nearly found himself among them until rescued by knowing patrons. Audience enthusiasm was palpable throughout, cheering even Mr. Kaiser’s welcoming words: “This is quite remarkable tonight, isn’t it?”

“The festival is about celebrating Shakespeare, but it’s also about hoping that some of you interested in one art form will take a chance on another art form. If you like opera, you may want to see the film,” Mr. Kahn said before introducing the black-tie-bedecked Mr. Fenty as “the newest star in Washington.”

“My hope — and I know it is all of yours — is that the world will see the vitality and relevance of the arts in Washington and dispense with this notion we are a government town,” the mayor said to fresh applause before reading an official proclamation — “my first,” he said proudly.

“This town has renewed my faith in the theater,” New York actress and cast member Veanne Cox, surrounded by fans, volunteered at the party. “Shakespeare,” she quipped, “really doesn’t live in New York.”

Ann Geracimos

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