- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

The days of wine and togas come to a close this fall as Washington theaters cast aside classical Greek plays for a mix of contemporary and time-honored works.

Avery Brooks, who played Oedipus a few seasons back at the Shakespeare Theatre, returns to the venue in “Othello” (through Oct. 30), once again taking on the role of the hair-trigger-tempered Moor who is manipulated by his lieutenant, Iago (Patrick Page).

The Shakespeare Theatre goes from jealous husbands to sets of twins separated at birth in the slapstick-tinged “The Comedy of Errors” (Nov. 15 through Jan. 8), directed by Douglas C. Wager. Call 202/547-1122.

Arena Stage goes medieval with Sarah Ruhl’s world-premiere work “Passion Play, a Cycle” (through Oct. 16). Miss Ruhl, who delighted audiences this summer with “The Clean House” at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, returns to the local theater scene with a lavish play-within-a-play told through the perspective of a troupe of actors enacting “The Passion of Christ” at three points in history.

From there, Arena delves into a different kind of yesteryear, 1940s America, for the slick and fast-moving comedy “Born Yesterday” (Sept. 30 through Nov. 6). Next up is “Cuttin’ Up” (Nov. 4 through Jan. 1), an affectionate homage to the local barbershop from director Charles Randolph-Wright and Craig Marberry, the team who brought us the wildly successful show “Crowns.” Arena rounds out the fall season with “Damn Yankees” (Dec. 9 through Feb. 5), the classic baseball musical about the Washington Senators. Call 202/488-4377.

The chilling effects of scientific breakthroughs are explored in Caryl Churchill’s “A Number” (Wednesday through Oct.16) at Studio Theatre, directed by Joy Zinoman.

Studio continues its commitment to new work with the regional premiere of “Guantanamo: ‘Honor Bound to Defend Freedom’” (Nov. 2 through Dec. 11), which tells the gripping true stories of four British residents imprisoned at Guantanamo.

Woolly Mammoth also has garnered an international reputation for developing and staging new work, evidenced by a 2005-2006 season heavily devoted to untested plays. “After Ashley” (Monday through Oct. 9) by D.C. native Gina Gionfriddo is a blisteringly funny satire about a teenager thrust into the national spotlight after a family tragedy. Next is the world-premiere “Starving” (Nov. 14 through Dec. 18) by S.M. Shephard-Massat, a kitchen-sink drama (with touches of humor and sex) set in a black neighborhood in 1950s Atlanta. Call 202/393-3939.

New Round House Theatre Artistic Director Blake Robison kicks off his inaugural season with the stirringly romantic “Camille” (Sept. 14 through Oct. 9), adapted by Neil Bartlett and starring Aubrey Deeker as Marguerite Gautier’s love-struck swain. Round House Silver Spring taps into our absurdist side with Eugene Ionesco’s “The Chairs” (Oct. 14 through Nov. 6), a fresh interpretation of the play by French director Alain Timar. Back at Round House Bethesda, things get beastly and somewhat whimsical with the jazz-inflected musical “A Year With Frog and Toad” (Nov. 16 through Dec. 11). Call 240/644-1100.

Olney Theatre Center has a spanking new main stage yet will harken back to the past with its fall offerings, starting with Paul Osborne’s gentle and neighborly comedy “Morning’s at Seven” (Oct. 5 through Oct. 30). The holiday show celebrates urchins and street life in the Dickensian musical “Oliver!” (Nov. 16 through Dec. 24). Call 301/924-3400.

Fall theater travels from the mean streets of London to the Caribbean in “Yemaya’s Belly” (Nov. 8 through Dec. 18), at Signature Theatre in Shirlington. This coming-of-age story combines a boy, a bottle of Coke and a boat and is a tapestry of poetry, songs and movement. Call 703/820-9771.

Theater J brings the legendary Theodore Bikel to town in “The Disputation” (through Oct. 2), Hyam Maccoby’s powerful reconstruction of 13th-century Barcelona, where King James is compelled by the Pope to convert the Jews of Spain by way of a series of debates.

“Sex in the City” meets “Copenhagen” is how Jacqueline Reingold’s “String Fever” (Oct. 27 through Nov. 27) is described, a brainy comedy about turning 40 and the fundamentals of string theory. The smart, girl-powered rock of Betty returns Dec. 20 through Jan. 29 in a reprise engagement of “Betty Rules!” Call 202/777-3229.

The American Century Theater gives neglected plays their due with “It Had to Be You” (Thursday through Oct. 8), the Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor comedy about a desperate B-actress and the television producer she holds hostage. Call 703/553-8782.

The Theater Alliance on H Street had a hit last fall with the lovely Canadian play “Mary’s Wedding” and hopes lightning strikes twice with another play from our northern neighbors, “You Are Here” by Dan MacIvor (Oct. 13 through Nov. 13). Set among the infidelities of movie directors, starlets and magazine writers, the playwright explains his work as “a one-woman show with twelve characters.” Jennifer Mendenhall stars. Call 800/494-8497.

Children won’t be left in the lurch this fall. Imagination Stage in Bethesda is presenting two family-friendly shows, “Cinderella” (Sept. 24 through Nov. 6), an adaptation by Charles Way, who gave us the shiveringly atmospheric “Merlin and the Cave of Dreams” last season, and “Seussical” (Nov. 25 through Jan. 15), the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty musical that brings to life the Cat in the Hat, Horton and the Whos, Gertrude McFuzz and other supremely silly Dr. Seuss characters. Call 301/280-1660.

The younger set no doubt also will be enchanted (and scared, in a good way) by the Broadway touring production of “Wicked” (Dec. 21 through Jan. 15) at the Kennedy Center Opera House. This variation on “The Wizard of Oz” characters features numerous special effects and an infectious score. Call 202/416-8500.

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