The Shakespeare Theater

June 2, 2011

Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband”
March 8 – April 10
Oscar Wilde will get the full treatment by the Shakespeare Theater Company under the veteran and able direction of Keith Baxter. The threat of scandal, an obsession during Victorian times, buzzes over an upstanding and rising aristocratic type in this Wilde gambol through British social mores.

“Old Times”
May 17 – July 3

The Studio Theater


“New Ireland: The Enda Walsh Festival”
March 15 – April 25
Featuring the works of acclaimed Irish playwright Enda Walsh, the festival brings back the Druid Theater Company with its production of Walsh’s “Penelope.” The festival is new artistic director David Muse’s effort to broaden Studio’s international reach and includes productions by the Studio Theater of Walsh’s “The Walworth Farce” and “The New Electric Ballroom.” Walsh herself will be on hand, along with Tony-winning director Garry Hynes. There are readings, plays, films and a daylong symposium on New Irish arts.

“Venus in Fur”
Opening May 25

WNO Welcomes Francesca Zambello, Artistic Advisor


The momentous recent times of change at the Washington National Opera just saw another one or two big changes about to materialize.

First Mark Weinstein, the Executive Director of the WNO, left during the 2009-2010 season. Then Placido Domingo, the bread-and-butter star power of the WNO, announced his resignation, effective at the end of this season (but not, it should be added, without delivering an assured star turn in the spring production of “Iphigenie en Tauride”).

Then the WNO announced that the company would become an affiliate of the Kennedy Center, where it has performed almost always at the Opera House, barring periods of renovation.

Now the WNO announced that the dynamic and gifted opera and theater director Francesca Zambello would become its Artistic Advisor. That’s a few steps short of actually being the Artistic Director. For now she will be working with others, including the KC President Michael Kaiser, as well as WNO officials, including Michael L. Mael who was appointed Executive Director in May. He was previously the WNO’s Chief Operating Officer.

That might mean that there will be a bit of the old breath of fresh air and more contemporary and cutting edge works on the horizon with Zambello placed in a critical role.

Zambello, a very busy woman these days already, has always had eclectic and diverse ambitions and tastes—and she’s not shy about trying new things. These days, she is currently the Artistic and General Director of the Glimmerglass Festival, and she holds an Artistic Advisor role at the San Francisco Opera, where she is directing the “Ring Cycle” next month.

Doubtless, Wagner and the cycle may get a new life in the future, after plans had to be abandoned at the WNO in recent years.

Zambello, by her track record, is always seeking new challenges, and in fact provided some of the more contemporary work seen at the WNO, where she’s been a familiar figure ever since she directed “Of Mice and Men” in 2001. She’s tackled Wagner before here with “Das Reingold,” “Die Walkure” and “Siegfried,” as well as material as different as “Porgy and Bess,” “Billy Budd,” “Fidelio” and last year’s scintillating “Salome.”

Zambello has staged plays on Broadway, including the musical “The Littlest Mermaid,” and directed in venues as varied as the Sydney Festival, the Bregenz Festival, Disneyland, Berlin’s Theater des Westens, and Vienna’s Raimund Theater. She has also staged opera and theater productions at the Met, Teatro alla Scala, the Bolshoi, Covent Garden, the Munich Staatsoper, the Paris Opera, the New York City Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the English National Opera.

By the awards she’s received, you can get a pretty good picture of her eclecticism: she’s been awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government as well as the Russian Federation’s Medal for Service to Culture. She has received three Olivier Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, two French Grand Prix des Critiques, the Helpmann Award and the Palme d’Or in Germany.

She was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that her role at the WNO would include: “Addressing how to make opera more a part of the city at large.”

Welcome, Zambello.

Arena Stage


“The Edward Albee Festival”
March 5 – April 24
With lots of events, plays, talks and side activities, and it’s all about Albee.

Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
February 25 – April 10
Perhaps the main event of the Albee Festival, the Steppenwolf Theater Company’s production of the acerbic drama stars Tracy Letts and May Morton as George and Martha.

Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo”
February 25 – April 24

“The Chosen”
March 8 – 27

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company


“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”
March 21 – April 10
Most intriguing prospect and title goes to this one-man show by solo performer Mike Daisy, wherein he discusses the stigma and the harrowing truths of the world’s most mysterious techie icon.

“BootyCandy,” written and directed by Robert O’Hara
May 30 – June 26
O’Hara, who just took home a Helen Hayes Award for “Antebellum,” will be turning out this kaleidoscope of sassy sex education, which discusses growing up gay and African American.

Ford’s Theater


“Liberty Smith”
March 23 – May 21
Geoff Packard, who wowed audiences in the title role of “Candide,” takes on another title role with “Liberty Smith,” a new musical by Michael Weiner, Adam Abraham, Marc Madnick, and Eric R Cohen. It’s a tall-tale musical approach to the early founding days of American history with 23 musical numbers.

Holiday Cheer


 

-The Christmas holidays are upon us and its not even Thanksgiving yet. Everywhere you look — in malls, in television ads, in the streets and storefront windows — ‘tis the season.

That’s especially true for the performing arts, where seasonal favorites of all sorts are being prepared, sugar plum fairies being outfitted, little boys everywhere practicing how to say “God bless us, every one,” venues large and small brightening up their stages and halls with traditional holiday fare searching for a new and all-inclusive way to celebrate the season for their patrons.

Christmas is about pleasing the most people, it’s about sharing in the spirit of the season, and so old stories are resurrected in old and new ways. Music as familiar as a hometown is heard again, the atmosphere and environment become rich and thick with iconic elements, from Scrooge’s nightshirt and the ghosts that haunt him to stars to wrapped packages under a tree to the full-lunged glories of symphonic music and the quieter joys of quieter carols.

We’re offering a sampler of what’s in store in the way of Christmas in the performing arts around the Washington area, and we’ll take a close look at how two institutions are approaching something old and something new, one making a traditional holiday offering new again as an institution, the other attempting to create a new tradition.

An Old Story and a New Scrooge

There is probably no story that says Christmas more loudly, more intensely and with more familiarity than Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future have become such a staple of American film, television, and theater that it’s hard to imagine Christmas without it.

Right now, productions are being prepared all over the country and a new digitally created movie starring a facsimile Jim Carrey as Scrooge has already hit theaters.

Meanwhile, the folks at Ford’s Theatre are busy finishing rehearsals for its own production. With some interruptions, “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre is as much a Washington seasonal tradition as the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. As a result, the show has been seen by critics as something of a sentimental chestnut. Audiences, tourists and locals alike flock to it.

This year, it’s a brand new show. “We’ve added lots of music to the show, Christmas music and carols,” new director Michael Baron said. “That’s going to be a crucial element of the show. They say Dickens practically invented Christmas, so we added a true magical, seasonal element with the music. There’s a real flavor and sense of period and place to.”

“The odd thing,” Baron, who directed Signature Theatre’s cabaret series, said, “is that in England they don’t do the show. They do pantomimes and such.”

This production has something else that’s bound to make it fresh. That’s the presence of Edward Gero, one of Washington’s most honored, down-to-earth, natural actors taking on the part of Scrooge. Gero, who’s played everyone from Nixon to Bolingbroke to haunted, drunken contemporary Irishmen, knows that there’s not just the ghost of Christmas past here, but the ghosts of Scrooges past too.

“Oh God yes,” he said. “That dark, really scary Alistair Sims, George C. Scott, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart, and, yeah, Mr. Magoo. That’s a long line, not to mention the people who’ve done it here. It’s a challenge, but you know, performing here at the Ford’s Theatre has always been on my bucket list, and I suppose, yeah, doing Scrooge.”

It’s hard to imagine Gero as Scrooge, or as anyone. He is the least chameleonlike of actors, a regular guy, blunt, funny, of Italian heritage, almost a working man’s actor. His wife is a district elementary school teacher, and while he teaches at George Mason University and does narrations and voice overs and some television, he is the essential great community actor who’s performed with almost all of the theaters in Washington.

“It’s a ghost story, it’s the Christmas story,” he said.”I’m looking forward to being Scrooge, he’s a haunted man long before the Marley and the ghosts come, haunted by his childhood, haunted by the past.”

“A Christmas Carol” begins Nov. 23.

Out of the darkness, into the light

If Scrooge rewards and reassures audiences with traditional material made rich again, “Take Joy!” the big Christmas show at the Music Center at Strathmore, takes a radical new approach to seasonal entertainment.

“It’s different, it’s spectacular, we’ve tried to present something that will be special to people who are living regular lives today, right here and now,” Eliot Pfanstiel, president and CEO of Strathmore and executive producer for “Take Joy!” said. “It begins almost as soon as you walk toward the center, over the bridge, with the sights and sounds of all sorts of music, carolers, people dressed for the season.”

“It’s the solstice, the darkest night of the year,” Pfanstiel said. “It’s a journey from the darkness into the light, a journey taken by a group of people, family and a shepherd in search of a pageant.”

At play is the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson, traditional Christmas music, gospel music, hip-hop, classical, folk and Celtic. “Call it a new kind of holiday show, wholly original, transforming and transporting. It’s not any one thing, just as the holidays don’t mean one thing for everybody. It’s about a community gathering together on the darkest night of the year and coming out into the light at evenings end.”

Pfanstiehl, sometimes the perfect example of CEO as inventive boy, nurtured this project with Director Jerry Whiddon, Composer Roger Ames and Producer Jeff Davis. They all worked together at Street 70 in the 1970s, a homegrown theater which evolved into the Roundhouse Theater.

“Take Joy!” which includes the wondrous F. Faye Butler, Jennifer Timberlake and Robert Quay in the cast, will be performed Dec. 18 and 19.

Nutcracker, Nutcracker, Nutcracker

If you look long enough during the holidays, you’re going to find a Nutcracker. Here’s three for everyone.

For the Washington Ballet, no less a personage than George Washington is featured in Septime Webre’s beautiful, lush imagining of “The Nutcracker,” with Washington in full uniform taking on the role of the heroic Nutcracker and King George III donning the role of the Rat King. It’s a Washington tradition that’s presented at the THEARC Dec.3-5 and at the Warner Theatre Dec. 10-27.

At the Kennedy Center, the Pennsylvania Ballet comes to town for seven performances of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” Nov. 24-29.

What’s special about this production is that it marks the D.C. premiere of the Balanchine version, which the Pennsylvania Ballet has performed since 1969. It’s a spectacular production with 192 costumes designed by Judanna Lynn and new sets by Peter Horne. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra will accompany the production, which will feature the Norwood Middle School Chorus.

Meanwhile, the Puppet Company at Glen Echo Park will present its puppet version of “The Nutcracker” through the holiday season.

Christmas at the National Gallery

The National Gallery of Art will have caroling in the west building rotunda with families and visitors singing along with guest choirs and ensembles Dec. 12, 13, 19 and 20. In addition, there will be holiday concerts on Sundays in the west garden court of the west building Dec. 13, 20 and Jan. 3.

Music, music and other occasions

Washington Revels presents its annual Christmas Revels December 12 and 13 at Lisner Auditorium, featuring Renaissance Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci and celebrating Italian holiday traditions with music and dance.

The Dumbarton Concerts in Georgetown present one of the most alluring, beautiful holiday concerts in town with its annual “A Celtic Christmas” with the Linn Barnes and the Allison Hampton Celtic Consort

It’s at Georgetown’s historic Dumbarton Church December 5, 6 and Dec. 12 and 13.

The Folger Consort will be celebrating the Christmas holidays in the Elizabethan Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library Dec. 11-20 with “In Dulci Jubilo,” a concert of the festive Christmas music of 17th-century composer Michael Praetorius, considered to be the man responsible for creating the German Lutheran chorale tradition.

The 21st Annual Christmas Concert for Charity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be performed on Dec. 4, featuring the Catholic University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra and other artists.

Discovery Theater will present its seasonal extravaganza “Seasons of Light,” celebrating the holiday traditions of Sankta Lucia, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Ramadan in December.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Conductor Marin Alsop brings a very different version of Handel’s “Messiah” with a re-envisioned gospel version “Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah” at the Music Center at Strathmore Dec. 13.

At the Kennedy Center, there’s the NSO Pops with “Happy Holidays,” conducted by Marvin Hamlisch Dec. 10-13 and the National Symphony Orchestra performing the “real” Handel’s Messiah Dec. 17-20.

The Waverly Consort brings its performance of “The Christmas Story” to the Terrace Theater with its eight singers and five instrumentalists Dec. 16.

There’s also free stuff: the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center will include performances by the U.S. Army Blues performing Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Nutcracker Suite” on Dec. 1, a “Merry TubaChristmas” on Dec. 13, holiday vaudeville on Dec. 26-27 and an all-star Christmas Day jazz jam.

Plus there’s the annual “Messiah Sing-Along” performed since 1972 in the Concert Hall.

Finally, there’s the annual holiday doings at Union Station, featuring all things Norwegian, including a tree-lighting ceremony of a 32-foot Christmas tree on Dec. 3 and Toys for Tots and a model train ceremony Nov. 24.

Explore “Maximum India”


Here is India, according to stats provided by the embassy: 1.2 billion people, 24 languages, 1,600 dialects, 28 states, a rich variety of regional cuisines, 330,000 gods and goddesses, and 300 ways of cooking a potato.

The Kennedy Center’s huge, month-long festival celebrating Indian culture (March 1-20) is thus called “Maximum India.” And as it would seem, there are thousands of reasons for that.

“What you will find in this festival is a celebration of India’s diversity,” said Ms. Meera Shankar, the Indian Ambassador to the United States since April of 2009, in a small press gathering at the Cosmos Club, showcasing parts of the festival.

“India,” she said, “is a great kaleidoscope of cultures, ethnicity, religions, geography, languages, literature, music, dance, paintings, architecture, festivals, cuisine and customs going back thousands of years. And you’ll find much of that in this festival.”

The festival is another in a series of festivals that has focused on geographical regions of the world at the Kennedy Center, including China, the Middle East and Arabia, the Silk Road and others. “Maximum India” is presented in cooperation with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which has brought and sponsored several of the attractions in the festival to the United States.

“The arts create a unique platform for understanding each other,” Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser said. “This festival will highlight India’s magnificent arts and culture offerings on the Kennedy Center’s stages and throughout the building.”

Much of India’s cultural offerings—its literature, music, dance and performance arts—are rooted in the ancient past, so that even modern creativity in India has a flavor of the old Gods, of religious practices, of re-inventing old arts and understanding them anew, and of enduring faiths in a contemporary setting.

“You’ll find similarities through the regions of India—it’s the cradle of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are known as the Indian religions. But there’s also Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahai faith, which makes the country a hotbed of inter-faith activities and cooperation.”

“The past is always a part of the present here,” the ambassador said. “But there is also Bollywood, with its very modern cinematic pulse, which is now exported all over the world. We have western pop music, as well as traditional music. We are at once very modern and very old.”

Not all of that may make its way into the enormous festival with its many free events, but there is definitely a flavor of a vast nation at work in the offerings of the festival.

Here are some highlights:

Madhavi and Alarmel Valli fuse two classical dance forms in a joint creative experience called “Samanvaya: A Coming Together.” Valli is the leading choreographer of one of the oldest dance forms in India, the classical bharatanatyam.

On the other hand, there’s Tanusree Shankar, a choreographer and artistic director of a company that specializes in contemporary Indian dance.

Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar, and who accompanied her father on tour recently, will be performing with the National Symphony Orchestra.

The Rhythm of Rajasthan, a group of musicians and dancers, perform a diverse program that includes folk music and ecstatic Sufi music. Want a mix of the modern and the old? Try the Raghu Dixit Project from Bangalore, an Indo-World-Folk-Rock Band.

Naseereuddin Shah will bring his Motley Theater Group from Mumbai (the setting for the popular Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaires”) to the festival. The group is famous for its storytelling abilities and for performing western plays in Hindustani, including “Waiting for Godot.”

The Kennedy Center has also created for this festival the Monsoon Club in the Terrace Theater, where contemporary Indian musicians and other artists will be performing

India is of course a center of the world film industry, and many key films from India over the last 50 years will be screened in the Terrace Theater throughout the festival. There will also be a major discussion of the Indian film industry and Bollywood.

The grand halls of the Kennedy Center will be filled with images and objects reflecting the arts of India, transforming the center into more than a little piece of India.

In terms of cuisine, the Kennedy Center will be serving up the tastes of India in the KC Café and the Roof Terrace Restaurant. Chef Hemant Oberoi, Executive Grand Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Mumbai, will lead a team of 12 chefs from around India to introduce festival-goers to the cuisines of India.

For all the details of maximum India visit Kennedy-Center.org/India.

Theater Shorts

May 17, 2011

Arena Stage

Arena Stage will be producing John Grisham’s first novel adapted for the stage, “A Time To Kill,” the first theatrical adaptation of any Grisham work. After Carl Lee Hailey’s daughter falls victim to a horrific crime, her father takes the law into his own hands and ends up on trial for murder. An idealistic lawyer takes the case, but he’s up against a district attorney and faces a racially divided city. Tony Award-winning Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Curtains) is the playwright in this play at Arena Stage through June 19. (ArenaStage.org)

Folger Theatre

Folger Theatre premieres Michael Hollinger’s new translation of Rostand’s classic play, “Cyrano,” through June 5. The now-familiar tale of the large-nosed Cyrano, famed for his panache, and the handsome but tongue-tied Christian, who conspire to win the heart of the beautiful Roxane, is given new life in this sensuous, precise adaptation. (Folger.edu/theatre)

Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre presents the world premiere of Liberty Smith through May 21, a madcap musical romp through Revolutionary America. The elusive Mr. Liberty Smith, childhood friend of George Washington, apprentice to Benjamin Franklin and link to Paul Revere’s remarkable ride, weaves his way through familiar tales of a young nation. Rife with melody and blazing with adventure, Liberty Smith recalls the lush heyday of the American musical. Experience the nation’s birth through the eyes of forgotten Founding Father, Liberty Smith. (FordsTheatre.org)

Washington National Opera

Washington National Opera brings us Iphigénie en Tauride, the story of Iphigénie, high priestess of Taurus, tormented by dreams of her family’s bloody past and intimations of violence in the future. Gluck’s masterpiece, with its sweeping score and dramatic story, is enjoying a renaissance at major opera houses around the world. This company premiere features a cast led by soprano Patricia Racette, “the consummate singing actress” (Chicago Tribune). Hailed as the “greatest operatic artist of modern time” (The Guardian), world-renowned tenor Plácido Domingo, in his last show at the company, sings Oreste, Iphigénie’s long-lost brother who is condemned to death. The opera runs through May 28. (DC-Opera.org)

“King Lear” at Synetic Theater

April 20, 2011

Can you get the full measure of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” without hearing Lear’s verbal rage against the Gods?

You bet you can—and without any of the words for that matter—in Synetic Theater’s “silent Shakespeare” series, now through April 24 at the Lansburgh and April 29 – May 9 at Synetic’s home base in Rosslyn.

This is a Lear with more than one fool, more than one clown, and one true mime who is the fool. This is the Paata Tsikurishvilli version of Lear, where all the characters wear painted faces, like some mad, violent circus troupe, damned and doomed to hell and gone. It’s also a full expression of just what’s made the troupe from Russia—head by Tsikurishvilli and his wife choreographer Irina—almost universally acclaimed by critics and rewarded almost routinely with Helen Hayes awards.

This production with its high, athletic and murderous energy, works almost like a bookend to the Bard’s “Lear” in the sense that it lays on the emotional content through movement, visceral visual vistas and the words that can seep out of and echo through silence. You’re reminded a little of Kurasawa’s “Ran,” a cinematic Japanese version of “Lear,” in which the last image is that of a blinded fool dancing on the edge of a cliff.

It doesn’t quite explain why Tsikurishvilli decided to make Cordelia a son instead of a daughter, and why Lear’s love and loss don’t quite get their full measure as a result.

Still, this production is an opportunity for DC city dwellers to catch the horrible, beautiful magic of Synetic, which is in a theatrical category by itself.