- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

If you think the new theater season sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Revivals, repeats and time-tested (read: safe) classics are among the potential seat-fillers offered by area companies this fall.

Did a busy summer prevent you from catching “An Enemy of the People” at Olney? Relax, a few weeks after closing, Ibsen’s rabble-rouser opens — with a new production and translation — at the Shakespeare Theatre (through Oct. 22). Likewise, missing “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” during a limited run (through Sunday) at Longacre Lea does not necessarily mean depriving yourself of Tom Stoppard’s long-winded repartee. The existential, “Beckett-haunted” comedy bounces back next spring at Studio Theatre.

While on the subject of all things Vladimir and Estragon, “Waiting for Godot” will play at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater (Oct. 3 through 5); it was performed at the Washington Shakespeare Company in 2004. This time around, Dublin’s Gate Theatre performs Beckett’s tramp tragedy.

The Kennedy Center’s fall season also will feature the touring show of last year’s Broadway hit “Twelve Angry Men” (Oct. 3 through 22 in the Eisenhower Theater), based on the 1954 teleplay about a young hoodlum awaiting the jury’s verdict for the murder of his no-goodnik father. The holiday offering is a delicate dazzler, the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical “The Light in the Piazza” (Dec. 9 through Jan. 7), with lushly romantic music by Adam Guettel, the grandson of composer Richard Rodgers.

It seems like only yesterday (actually, it was 2001) that “She Loves Me” played locally, but even before you can hum “Dear Friend,” the musical will reappear at Arena Stage during the holiday season (Nov. 17 through Dec. 31). Arena’s mounting of the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock tuner (itself based on Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1940 movie “The Shop Around the Corner”) opens less than three weeks after the close of another musical often revived here, the Weimar-era warhorse “Cabaret” (Today through Oct. 29). That scheduling comes from a combination of bad timing and the long incubation period for developing new work, especially musicals.

Arena originally was to present playwright Paula Vogel’s musical “A Civil War Christmas,” which has been in the theater’s hatchery for eight years. It has been scratched, along with another world premiere, “The Women of Brewster Place,” scheduled to debut in April but now replaced by “Peter and Wendy,” a variation on J.M. Barrie’s novel that features East Asian puppetry.

The fall lineup at Arena rounds out with two much-anticipated works. “Nine Parts of Desire” (Sept. 29 through Nov. 12) is a poetic mosaic written and performed by Heather Raffo, depicting nine Iraqi women. Michael Frayn’s door-slamming farce “Noises Off” (Dec. 15 through Jan. 28) is, on the surface, an “oh no, not again” chestnut. However, it should be considerably recharged by British director Jonathan Munby, whose contributions to the RSC’s “The Canterbury Tales” were among the liveliest and most inventive in that collaboratively directed show.

Signature Theatre is another company forced to do some schedule reshuffling, in this case because its new complex in Shirlington will not be ready for the fall season. In the old space on Seven Mile Run, artistic director Eric Schaeffer will tackle “My Fair Lady” (Sept. 26 through Nov. 19). Starring as Professor Higgins is Andrew Long, who surprised many a theatergoer last season with his musical chops in Olney’s staging of “Oliver!”

Other variations on “been there, seen that” include “Stones in His Pockets” at Rep Stage (Sept. 22 through Oct. 8), followed by the old-timey musical “Tintypes” (Oct. 27 through Nov. 19); “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” under the direction of the gifted Joe Banno at the Folger (Oct. 19 through Nov. 26); and two evergreens in a row at Olney Theatre Center, “The Foreigner” (Sept. 27 through Oct. 22) and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Cinderella” (Nov. 15 through Dec. 31).

This is not to say that all of these retreads are automatic chloroform in the footlights. Directors, theater companies and actors continually surprise with their resourcefulness in breathing new life into shows you believed never could beguile or move you again.

The Shakespeare Theatre, for instance, has enlisted funnyman and D.C. native Ken Ludwig to add some slap and tickle to George Farquhar’s farce “The Beaux Stratagem” (Nov. 7 through Dec. 31), an adaptation that was begun by the late Thornton Wilder. Also, Synetic Theater surely will bring edginess and a kinky Goth sensibility to its version of “Frankenstein” (Wednesday through Oct. 1). If you can’t get enough of that big lug, “Jon Spelman’s Frankenstein,” a one-man retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic, will haunt Round House Silver Spring (Oct. 19 through Nov. 12).

So, is there anything untried to anticipate?

Three literary adaptations look intriguing. Round House Theatre Bethesda presents the area premiere of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (Wednesday through Oct. 8), writer John Irving’s high-pitched masterpiece about faith, fate and friendship. A production of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s spiritual children’s book “The Little Prince” follows at the same venue (Nov. 15 through Dec. 10). Over at Theater Alliance, “Toni Morrison’s the Bluest Eye” (Oct. 12 through Nov. 5) leaps from page to stage with all its rich language and harrowing evocation of the hierarchy of skin and eye color intact.

Studio Theatre hopes to continue its hot streak with “Red Light Winter” (which opened Wednesday), Adam Rapp’s haunting and erotic play about a love triangle in Amsterdam. Paula Vogel may not be at Arena this Christmas, but she has taken up residence at Studio with “The Long Christmas Ride Home” (opens Nov. 15), which combines storytelling, puppetry and music to portray an unconventional trip to grandmother’s house.

You can always count on Woolly Mammoth to take chances with new work, and this season promises to challenge your comfort zone, beginning with “In the Continuum” (through Sept. 24), a play about AIDS among black women around the globe written and performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter. The in-your-face directive continues with “Get Your War On” (Oct. 5 through 14), adapted by the Rude Mechs of Austin, Tex., from the Internet comic strips of David Rees.

Also, Theater J celebrates its 16th season with “Spring Forward/Fall Back” (Oct. 19 through Nov. 26), scholar-critic-playwright Robert Brustein’s new play about successive generations of fathers and sons and their fights over music.

Did fathers and sons ever argue about the Beatles? All generations probably can find a common groove in “Rain — The Beatles Experience” at the Warner Theater (Oct. 6 through 8), a live show that boasts a song list of 200 hits, from which the audience can make requests beforehand via the Internet.

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