- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2007

Enough basking in the lemony sunshine, lounging by the pool, lingering over alfresco dinners lighted by the honeyed glow of fireflies. Labor Day has passed, and it’s time to start acquiring the ghostly pallor of someone who spends the majority of their time in a darkened theater.

The new theater season is busier than ever, with the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall on 6th and F streets Northwest debuting in late October with a Christopher Marlowe repertory: “Tamburlaine” (directed by artistic director Michael Kahn and running Oct. 28 through Jan. 6) and “Ed- ward II” directed by Gale Edwards (Oct. 27 through Jan. 6). The company’s Lansburgh theater won”t be lonely, however. Rebecca Bayla Taichman, who shows such a deft touch with the works of Sarah Ruhl, turns her astute eye to staging “The Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare”s comedy about high-maintenance divas and the men who love them (Sept. 25 through Nov. 18). Visit www.shakespeare theatre.org for more information.

The Bethesda Theatre, a renovated 1938 movie house, throws open its art deco doors on Oct. 4 with a never-before-seen-in-D.C. production of the Seinfeldian musical about relationships madness, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” To find out more about this long-running off-Broadway revue, go to www.bethesdatheatre.com.

Speaking of populist entertainment, the Warner and National theaters will be packed with crowd-pleasing musical fare, starting with the Warner’s “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy” (Sept. 11 through 16, www.warnertheatre.com), featuring aerialists, vine-swinging rivals for Tarzan and puppets.

Composer Bill Finn adds a welcome bit of neurotic whimsy to musical theater with “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Oct. 23 through Nov. 4, www.nationaltheatre.org), the Tony-winning musical about nerds and syntax that puts the funk in Funk & Wagnalls. In a similarly irreverent vein is “Avenue Q” (Nov. 27 through Dec. 9, www.nationaltheatre.org), a hilarious puppet review with more of a downtown sensibility than those from “Sesame Street.” The National wraps up the fall season with the return of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” Dec. 11 through Jan. 6.

Not to be outdone in the tunesmith department, Signature Theatre once again channels Stephen Sondheim with its opening production, “Merrily We Roll Along” (through Oct. 14), a rueful tale of a composer’s unraveling friendships with the people who once meant the world to him, directed by wunderkind Eric Schaeffer. Signature also keeps up its commitment to new work with “The Word Begins” (Oct. 2 through Dec. 2), a drama with sketch comedy and elements of hip-hop culture. Their holiday offering is an East Coast premiere written and directed by dancer Christopher d’Amboise, “The Studio” (Nov. 6 through Dec. 2), about a famous choreographer creating a new work for two dancers. Click on www.signature-theatre.org.

The Folger Theatre goes deep into the Forest of Arden for its production of “As You Like It” (Oct. 17 through Nov. 25) directed by Derek Goldman and featuring Sarah Marshall as Touchstone, the erudite clown. Go to www.folger.edu for more information.

Synetic Theater promises its trademark combination of physical discipline and eye-popping visuals with “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Sept. 22 through Oct. 31), Edgar Allen Poe”s creepy psychological thriller adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Dan Istrate. The theater then taps into lighter vein with a no doubt unorthodox take on Charles Dickens‘ morality tale, “A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 24 through Dec. 24, www.synetictheater.org).

Woolly Mammoth, another company known for edginess, kicks off its new season with “The Unmentionables” (through Sept. 23, www.woollymammoth.net), which is not about lingerie but a satiric clash between do-gooder Americans and the residents of an African village. Next up is “Current Nobody” (Oct. 29 through Nov. 25), playwright Melissa James Gibson’s gender-bending riff on Homer’s “Odyssey.”

The Kennedy Center also does a bit of boundary-pushing with “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” (Sept. 22 through 24. www.kennedy-center.org). Written and performed by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, the personal narrative puts a face on terrorism while expounding on America’s eroding civil liberties. Audiences from a few years back may remember Fiona Shaw’s staggering portrayal of Medea, and she returns to the Terrace Theatre Nov. 23 through 29 in “Happy Days,” Samuel Beckett’s absurdist look at modern life. Trevor Nunn and Matthew Bourne’s feathery take on “My Fair Lady” graces the Opera House Dec. 27 through Jan. 20.

Studio Theatre celebrates 30 years of raising the bar with Athol Fugard’s “My Children! My Africa!” (through Oct. 14, www.studiotheatre.org), concerning a risky friendship between a black teenager and a white teenager in South Africa during apartheid. Artistic director Joy Zinoman directs the next offering, “Shining City” (opening Nov. 7), starring Edward Gero as a widower haunted by the ghost of his dead wife while his therapist is an ex-priest with tortured visions of his own.

Arena Stage hosts an ambitious roster of new work, beginning with Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations” (through Sept. 30, www.arenastage.org), about Beethoven’s obsessive genius. Lisa Kron’s “Well” Friday through Oct. 14) follows. It is a Tony-nominated comedy about growing up in a household where la vie boheme is business as usual. The world premiere productions “The Women of Brewster Place” (Oct. 19 through Dec. 9), a musical based on Gloria Naylor’s best-selling novel, and a District spin on Dickens, “Christmas Carol 1941” (Nov. 16 through Dec. 30) round out the season.

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