Fall 2010 Performing Arts Preview

At the Playhouse

Move over, New York. Here’s a look at some promising theater productions to send off Washington’s fall theater scene, rapidly securing status as one of the best in the nation.

The Return of Sarah Ruhl
The Woolly Mammoth Theatre on Sixth Street kicks off its season early and with one of the most intriguing productions of the season, “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play,” which starts Aug. 23 and runs through Sept. 19.The play is about the unintended or unanticipated consequences of new technology.

Sounds dry, but it’s anything but, not when the new tech is a little electrical device that landed in the medical community around the same time that electricity started to be used everywhere. The device is supposed to calm female hysteria, but it creates havoc in the households of patients and doctors instead because …well, you can guess from the title.

But that’s about all you’re going to be able to guess, because the play is the work of Sarah Ruhl, one of this generation’s most gifted and unusual playwrights. Now in her 30s and a mother of young twins, Ruhl has been very, very good to Woolly Mammoth, the theater du jour for new and cutting-edge works, with productions of her celebrated “The Clean House” and “Dead Man’s Cellphone” enjoying popular and critical success there. “In The Next Room” was the talk of New York during its run.

Expect nothing: one of the hallmarks of Ruhl’s work is that her characters don’t say or do what the play’s situation might indicate they would do and say. The Woolly Production is directed by the very busy Aaron Posner and features Woolly regulars Kimberly Gilbert and Sarah Marshall.

A ‘Sanctified Show’ at the Lincoln Theatre
The new award-winning gospel comedy “Sanctified,” by Javon Johnson, hits the Lincoln Theatre in October, with original (and presumably with gospel flair) music by Derrick Sanders, running Oct. 21 through Nov. 14.

“Sanctified” won six 2009 Black Theater Alliance Awards. The play follows the fortunes of the East Piney Grove Baptist Church when it tries to stave off financial woes by entering a gospel revival.

I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am
No, this isn’t the Herman’s Hermit song, but it IS a rarely done production of “Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare, presumably the last of the Bard’s works, which comes complete with some authorship issues and the fact that the Globe Theatre burned down during its run. The Folger Theatre will be doing the royal honors beginning Oct. 12. Ian Merrill Peakes plays the king, who’s a big hit on Showtime’s “The Tudors.”

‘Something You Did’ is Something to See at Theater J
Theater J also gets an early jump on the season with its production of “Something You Did,” a new play by Willy Holtzman about a group of people trying to reconcile their youthful radicalism with who they are now. Rick Foucheux stars as a former radi-lib turned neo-con media star and Deborah Hazlett plays a woman serving a 30-year prison sentence for an anti-war bombing in which a police officer was killed. (Aug. 28 through Oct. 3).

‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Dinner With Friends’
Something old and something new at Olney Theatre, where Artistic Director Jim Petosa presents the area premiere of Donald Margulies’s Pulitzer Prize-winner “Dinner With Friends,” about two couples enduring a divorce (Aug. 25 to Sept. 26). The National Players, at 60 America’s longest-running touring company, will bring their production of an enduring American classic, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” (Sept. 17-18).

Checkmate at ‘Chess’
Signature Theatre in Shirlington got way ahead of everybody by resurrecting the popular rock musical of yore, “Chess,” for a run through Sept. 26. Directed by Signature’s guiding light Eric Shaeffer, with lyrics by Tim Rice (“Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Lion King”) and music by the folks who brought you “Mamma Mia,” “Chess” is about an American and a Russian competing not only for chess supremacy but the love of a woman. What else could it be?

A New Era for Studio Theatre
The venerable 35-year-old Studio Theatre will not have Joy Zinoman as its artistic director this season after her retirement. Instead, there’s young (35) star David Muse, who’s directed “Blackbird” and Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty” at the Studio and scored successes at the Shakespeare Theatre.

Two on-the-edge and talked-about playwrights will kick off the season at Studio: Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” begins Sept. 8. In this play, all the world’s a stage, especially at an amateur theater class in Vermont. “Circle” is followed by “Superior Donuts,” a new comedy by the talented and ambitious Tracy Letts, who hypnotized audiences with her three-hour-plus family saga “August: Osage County.” (Begins Nov.10.)

‘Sabrina’ Is Back…
And she’s not a witch. Rather, it’s the charming, twice-made-into-a-movie play about a chauffeur’s daughter who manages to charm two brothers who are members of the rich super-business class. The play, 50 years old or so, is about things that still matter: class, race, economic divides and, of course, romance. (Audrey Hepburn dazzled William Holden and Humphrey Bogart in the first film.) “Sabrina” starts off the Ford’s Theatre season Oct. 1.

…So Is Sam Shepard’s ‘Fool For Love’
The Keegan Theatre — home of both classic Irish and American theater — is bringing back playwright (and sometime actor) Sam Shepard’s most popular play, “Fool for Love,” at the Church Street Theater Oct. 16. It’s a brawling, sexy play about the outer edges of love and hate, sex and violence when Eddie and May go at it in a hotel outside the Mojave desert.

Let Your ‘Hair’ Down at the Kennedy Center
The first true musical heralding the Age of Aquarius and rock ’n’ roll is coming to the Kennedy Center Opera House Oct. 16 for a run through Nov. 21. “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Let the Sun Shine In” and a host of songs your parents (or grandparents) might still be humming are back along with really long hair, hippie girls, afros and the Vietnam War.

Paddy Chayefsky Was the Man
Paddy Chayefsky didn’t just author the screenplay of “Network.” He was a pioneering playwright for television (“Marty”), won Emmys and Oscars and was something of a prophet with some of his socially conscious plays. “The Tenth Man” is relatively mellow and optimistic, a fable about love and faith, of all things, even though it’s about a Jewish exorcism. It plays at the American Century Theater in Arlington’s Gunston Arts Center beginning Sept. 17.

A Lope De Vega Classic at Gala Hispanic
In “El Caballero de Olmedo” (“The Knight of Olmedo”), a play from Spain’s golden age by a playwright often compared to Shakespeare, two lovers get caught up in a tragic rivalry between two Spanish towns. Lope De Vega’s classic kicks of Gala Hispanic’s season at the Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights beginning Sept. 17, a collaboration with the Spanish company Accion Sur.

‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ at Round House
Patricia Highsmith wrote nasty, quirky crime novels, of which “The Talented Mr. Ripley” — with its murderous anti-hero — is the most famous (Matt Damon played Ripley in the film version). Now it’s a play by Phyllis Nagy, adapted from the novel and gracing the stage at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda beginning Sept. 8. A regional theater premiere directed by Blake Robinson.

Two Openings for The Shakespeare Theatre Company
Shakespeare Theatre will keep both of its stages busy this fall, starting with “All’s Well That Ends Well,” directed by Michael Kahn and featuring Marsha Mason at the Lansburgh Theatre beginning Sept. 7.

For something entirely different, and for anyone seeking some clue about what’s going on in Afghanistan, there is the visit of the Tricycle Theatre company from the United Kingdom, which is bringing the three part play (actually 12 short plays) “The Great Game: Afghanistan,” which traces Western involvement in Afghanistan from its English, Russian and American ventures. It’s at the Sidney Harman Hall Sept. 15-25.

And, A Shakespeare Special for Free
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual Shakespeare Free For All is alive and well August 19-September 5 with a production of “Twelfth Night” at Sidney Harman Hall. Visit www.shakespearetheatre.org/about/ffa to enter the ticket lottery.

Scorched In Silver Spring
Along somewhat similar lines, “Scorched,” Lebanese-born playwright Jajdi Mouawad’s haunting play about twins going to the Middle East to search for their heritages, will premiere in D.C. at the Forum Theatre beginning Sept. 30 at the Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring venue. Forum received major critical praise and two Helen Hayes Awards for its awesome production of “Angels in America” last year.

From Page to Stage at The Kennedy Center
For anyone wanting to get an idea of the scope, range and volume of theater in the Washington area, the Ninth Annual Page to Stage New Play Festival at the Kennedy Center is worth a visit. It features the works of more than 40 metropolitan D.C. theaters in free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals under development. Take your pick with works by Adventure Theatre, the Doorway Arts Ensemble, the Folger Theatre, the Georgetown Theatre Company, the Hub Theatre, the Washington Improv Theater, Synetic Theater and a host of others. (Go to www.kennedy-center.org for a complete listing.)

Kid Stuff
Adventure Theatre at Glen Echo Park, Washington’s longest-running children’s theater, presents the American premiere of “Spot’s Birthday Party,” based on children’s book author Eric Hill’s hugely popular “Find Spot” books. The play is directed by Joe Banno, who has directed Shakespeare at the Folger and opera, and who finds himself returning to his roots. Spot is, of course, a very, very famous dog, with friends like Tom the crocodile, Helena the Hippo and Steve the monkey. What a party! Begins Sept. 17 running through Nov. 2.

At Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, dogs and cats figure prominently in “Bunnicula,” about the visit of a strange and menacing new member of the Monroe household , a creature with long ears and big teeth, with a taste for … what? A musical adaptation of Deborah and James Howe’s book. Begins Sept. 25.

Synetic Comes to Crystal City
Arena Stage, celebrating its 60th anniversary, will end its residency in Crystal City this year, but Synetic Theater, the handiwork of the dynamic, multi-award-winning Georgian husband and wife duo Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, will celebrate its 10th anniversary by filling in the now-vacant play house. The company, which began life in Dupont Circle and moved to Shirlington, has garnered high critical praise from the start with its “silent” approach to classic and epic theater and plays. The season begins with “King Arthur,” which would appear to lend itself to the unique talents of this company, starting Sept. 30.


The reason Washington arts patrons have the opportunity to see so many famous is that the area has two major world class performing arts centers. Here are some of the highlights:

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Kennedy Center, with its varied music, symphony, dance, theater and special programming, marks another major year with the first season of Christoph Eschenbach’s as music director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, which has its home at the center’s Concert Hall. This season also happens to be the orchestra’s 80th.

Expect a big season opening at the annual NSO Opening Ball Concerts on Sept. 25, where Eschenbach will make his debut accompanied by the country’s most noted soprano, the legendary Renee Fleming (performing Richard Strauss “Four Last Songs”) and renowned pianist Lang Lang, playing Liszt’s “Piano Concert No. 1.” Eschenbach’s official debut of the regular season comes when he conducts the Orchestra Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

But there’s more early on at the Kennedy Center. There’s the big Celebrate Mexico festival throughout the center Sept. 11-Oct. 3, commemorating Mexico’s 200 years of independence. The celebration will be part of the annual Kennedy Center Open House Arts Festival (Sept. 11), the Multicultural Children’s Book Festival (same date) and a host of other events.

The National Symphony Orchestra Pops Series, beginning its 11th year under Marvin Hamlisch, will debut Oct. 28 with an evening with singer, Broadway star, actress and all-around dynamo Patti Lupone on Oct. 28. Another highlight is the Thanksgiving salute to legendary Broadway lyricist Frank Loesser on Nov. 26 with music from “Guys and Dolls,” “The Most Happy Fella” and other great Loesser shows.

Major things to look forward to next year are the big India Festival in the spring and the all-performance art tribute to “The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration Jan. 20-Feb. 11.

Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center
You’re also going to run into the Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater Nov. 3-7 when Artistic Director Septime Webre brings his adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” (with music by Sergei Prokofiev) here.

The Music Center at Strathmore
The Music Center at Strathmore, on the outskirts of Bethesda, MD, has proven to be a major and welcome venue addition to the Washington area.

Its partners include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop, splitting a portion of its season with Strathmore in addition to its season at its home base at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. The Season for the BSO at Strathmore begins with a Prevue Concert Sept. 10 with Alsop and Ilyich Rivas sharing conducting of a program of Prokofiev, Mahler, Bach, Schumann, John Williams, Mozart, Barber and Shostakovich.

There’s also the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which kicks off its season at Strathmore with Mahler’s “Resurrection” on Oct. 9, under the direction of Piotr Gajewski.

Strathmore also partners with the Washington Performing Arts Society. Its own programming will feature the celebration of the guitar in a season-long guitar festival which will include performances by world-class guitarists in all fields: classical, jazz, country, acoustic.

A highlight early on will be an appearance by the legendary songwriter, actor, country/folk musician and guitarist, the gritty Kris Kristofferson (Nov. 13).

Also on tap in the fall: The Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Callaway sisters (Ann Hampton and Liz) in “Boom,” a look at the 70-year jazz career of Brubeck, on his way to being an American icon.

On Nov. 14, the Washington Post will hold an intimate conversation with today’s most enduring creator of musicals, Stephen Sondheim. On Oct. 7, classical guitars Paul Galbraith will appear. “Asperia,” the soprano and lute duo will appear Sept. 23.

The renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Jonathan Bliss on piano will present an all-Mozart program at the Music Center Nov. 3.

It’s as big day for family entertainment on Oct. 30, when Grammy Award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marx will present their 25th Annual Family Music party.

The Washington Performing Arts Society

The WPAS has been around for 40 years, providing education opportunities for young people and performance showcases for renowned world artists at theaters all over the Washington area.

The WPAS Men, Women and Children of Gospel choir will perform at the Arts on Foot Festival at Seventh and F Streets on Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. The festival, by the bye, offers a great opportunity for a sampling of many of the area’s performance arts groups. For more information, go to www.artsonfoot.org.

Renowned and glamorous violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will perform at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall Nov. 13.

Sweet Honey in the Rock, the locally nurtured gospel-folk-blues group of long standing, will perform at the Warner Theatre Oct. 23.

Ravi Shankar, now famous not only as an iconic sitar player, but also the father of two famous performing offspring (Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones), will be at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall Nov. 7.

Yo-Yo Ma will appear at the Kennedy Center Oct. 21.

Pianist Andras Schiff will perform at the Music Center at Strathmore Oct. 20.

Through the Opera Glass

Washington Concert Opera
The Washington Concert Opera opens its 2010-2011 season on Oct. 24 with Francesco Celia’s “Adriana Lecouvreur.” WCO Artistic Director Anthony Walker will conduct the performance at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Featured performers are James Valenti as Maurizio, Mary Elizabeth Williams as Adriana, Elizabeth Bishop as Princess de Bouillon and Donnie Ray Albert as Michonnet.

Walker has headed the Washington Concert Opera since 2002, makes his New York Metropolitan Opera Debut in 2011, conducting Gluck’s “Orleo.”

Washington National Opera
Five productions, all new to Washington, mix with a grand old tradition in the Washington National Opera’s 2010-2011 season, its 55th.

Under the leadership of General Director Placido Domingo, the season begins Sept. 11 with Verdi’s dramatic “Un Ballo in Maschera” (“The Masked Ball”), a soaring, powerful story of forbidden love and revenge which takes place during the 18th-century reign of Sweden’s King Gustavus III.

In this opera, King falls for Best Friend’s wife, a not unfamiliar theme in opera and theater. Best Friend plots his murder and things move forward. But it’s a Verdi opera, which means the kind of musical embellishment that heightens every emotion in the story, with soaring orchestration and straight-to-the-heart melodies.

In Europe, this opera startled many patrons at a time when most of the countries and empires of Europe were ruled by kings and emperors and a plot about a king’s murder did not sit well with the ruling class. This prompted the setting to be moved to America, where there are no kings. Some productions still do the American version.

Tenor Salvatore Licitra returns to Washington in the role of King Gustavus, sharing the part with American Frank Porretta. Also in the double-cast production are sopranos Tamara Wilson and Irene Theorin, and baritones Luca Salsi and Timothy Mix. James Robinson directs, and Daniele Callegari conducts the WNO orchestra. The production runs through Sept. 25.

October will feature Richard Strauss’ still astonishing operatic telling of the tale of “Salome,” with the gifted Francesca Zambello returning to direct Deborah Voigt in her WNO debut. Voigt is considered by many critics to be “one of the great Strauss interpreters of all time” and the definitive Salome of her generation. Strauss shocked the world with his opera, which includes a score that’s highlighted by “Dance of the Seven Veils”, as is, of course, any version of the Salome tale British tenor Richard Berkeley-Steele is Herod. In this story, Salome is a temptress who not only turns heads but causes at least one to fall. (October 7-23.)

That’s not all. The WNO will again offer a free simulcast, this year at the Washington Nationals Park, called “Opera in the Outfield” on Sept. 19, of “Un Ballo in Maschera.”

This season also inaugurates the Placido Domingo Celebrity Series, a concert series featuring opera’s most exciting popular stars. They’ll be performing their best-known works alongside the WNO orchestra. The concerts will start in the spring with Peruvian Tenor Juan Diego Florez on Feb. 11 and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel on March 12.

“Series O,” a specially discounted subscription series for audiences 35 and under, is also being initiated this year as a way to bring younger audiences to the opera.

The National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors will be held Oct. 22 at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, with the WNO as the producing partner for the awards ceremony and concert.

The spring portion of the season includes “Madame Butterfly,” Gluck’s “Iphigenie en Touride” and Donizett’s “Don Pasquale.”

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