- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

Witches with faces lit by cauldron fire, a vampire bunny, tropical steam heat in the chill of autumn, and van Gogh’s ear are just some of the images being conjured by area theaters this fall.

Something wicked this way comes Labor Day weekend, when the Shakespeare Theatre kicks off its 2004-05 season with “The Scottish Play,” aka “Macbeth,” starring Kelly McGillis as the bloodstained Lady Macbeth and Washington favorites Naomi Jacobson, Sarah Marshall and Jewell Robinson as the witches.

“Macbeth” runs through Oct. 24, followed by another Shakespeare play, “Pericles” (Nov. 9 though Jan. 2), which will be staged for the first time in the theater’s 17-year history. Mary Zimmerman, whose highly visual, dreamlike “Metamorphoses” won a Tony Award two seasons ago, will direct. Call 202/547-1122 for ticket information.

A visionary of a different sort, Vincent van Gogh, will be the topic of Signature Theatre’s world-premiere musical “The Highest Yellow” (Oct. 26 through Dec. 12), the first musical the theater has fully commissioned.

With music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa (“The Wild Party,” “La Ronde,” “Marie Christine”), the musical centers on the French doctor Felix Rey, who treated the disturbed painter after he lopped off his ear. Call 703/820-9771.

Another Frenchman wrestling with the nature of artistry is diplomat Rene Gallimard (portrayed by Broadway actor Stephen Bogardus), one of the main characters in “M. Butterfly,” David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play, which begins Arena Stage’s new season on a delicate note. The complex love affair between a career diplomat and a Chinese opera singer who is not who she seems runs through Oct. 17.

Shifting settings from one hemisphere to the other, Arena next presents Nilo Cruz’s “Anna in the Tropics” (Oct. 1 through Nov. 21) at the Kreeger. Mr. Cruz transports “Anna Karenina” to the oppressive heat of a 1920s South Florida cigar factory in this sexy, literate drama.

Arena moves from swamp to Wilde in “The Importance of Being Earnest” (Nov. 12 through Dec. 26), directed by Everett Quinton, an actor as well who is so breathtakingly artificial Oscar Wilde himself would no doubt approve of him as a cast member.

The holiday show this year will be another musical, “Hallelujah, Baby!” (Dec. 10 through Feb. 13), a tuneful tour of American history through two world wars and the civil rights movement featuring music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Call Arena’s box office at 202/488-4377 for details.

In a completely different, er, vein is “Bunnicula: Adventures of the Vampire Bunny” (Sept. 25 through Nov. 7), Imagination Stage’s biting (I can’t stop myself) family musical based on the popular children’s book about what happens when Chester the cat’s and Harold the dog’s good lives are turned upside down by a mysterious bunny.

After the rabbit come the spider and the pig, with “Charlotte’s Web” (Nov. 26 through Jan. 9), a new adaptation of E.B. White’s heartwarming children’s classic. Contact Imagination Stage at 301/280-1660.

The District will host a number of area premieres this season, starting with Lisa Loomer’s “Living Out” (Wednesday through Oct. 10) at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. Wendy Goldberg directs this dark comedy. It’s about a mega-successful L.A. attorney who, far too busy to raise her own children, entrusts them to Ana Hernandez, an illegal immigrant in a similar bind.

Another modern comedy, Ron Ackerman’s “Tabletop,” a fast-paced, oddball look at the advertising biz, will debut at Round House’s Silver Spring space (Sept. 29 through Nov. 7).

The fall season at Round House ends on a more serious note with Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” (Nov. 10 through Dec. 12). For more information on Round House’s season, call 240/644-1100.

Woolly Mammoth celebrates its 25th anniversary this season with a roster of quintessentially “Woolly” shows — neurotic, anarchic and edgy. A family in dire need of therapy supplies the central characters in “Lenny & Lou” (through Sept. 26), a world-premiere play by Ian Cohen that combines senior moments, cross-dressing and fortune hunting.

The madness continues with another world premiere, Craig Wright’s “Grace” (Oct. 25 through Dec. 19), which deals with changing perceptions, a perhaps pulp crime drama and a pious marriage.

The season winds up with what the Woolly terms “the Big Chill for the new urban generation,” Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Our Lady of 121st St.” (Dec. 8 through Jan. 2), which takes place at a funeral home where the body of beloved and feared Sister Rose has vanished. Call Woolly at 202/393-3939 for season details.

Studio Theater will turn 14th Street into Alexander Nevsky Prospekt as the theater inaugurates its newly expanded theater space with a Russian-themed season. Borscht belt comedy stylings will be the first stop, with Oleg Bogev’s “The Russian National Postal Service” (Wednesday through Oct. 17), which stars venerable funnyman Floyd King as a quirky Russian widower who fills his days writing letters to himself from Lenin.

Dancing from Chekha to Chekhov, Studio next offers David Hare’s graceful adaptation of the Russian dramatist’s “Ivanov,” which will open the theater’s new 200-seat space in November. Studio’s box office can be reached at 202/332-3300.

Another Red, Josef Stalin, is featured in Theater J’s first play of the season, Jules Feiffer’s “A Bad Friend” (Oct. 30 through Nov. 28), which looks at a teenage girl growing up in a family of communists in 1950s Brooklyn. Call 202/777-3229 for details.

More Russian fare will be served up at Howard County’s Rep Stage, with an English version by Tom Stoppard of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” (Sept. 24 through Oct. 10). Call Rep Stage at 410/772-4810.

Two other theaters will present lighter fare during the darker, cooler days of fall. Olney Theatre Center stages the wickedly funny, ghostly Noel Coward comedy “Blithe Spirit” (Oct. 6 through Nov. 7) and finishes out the season with the often somber, always uplifting American classic Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” (Nov. 16 through Dec. 26). For more information, call Olney at 301/924-4485.

The muscular pop of Billy Joel combines with Twyla Tharp’s innovative choreography in the rock musical “Movin’ Out,” which makesits first area appearance at the National Theatre (Nov. 19 through Dec. 19). Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, 800/447-7400.

Speaking of Broadway, stars of the Great White Way Andrea Martin and Jonathan Hadary team up for Thornton Wilder’s matrimonial comedy, “The Matchmaker” (which spawned that obscure musical “Hello, Dolly!”) at Ford’s Theatre (Sept. 24 through Oct. 24). For more information on Ford’s Theatre, call 202/347-4833.

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