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All About Helen Hayes Awards Nominations

If you want to know a little bit about what’s going on in the vibrant Washington area theatre scene, as well as a little bit about its history, check out the Helen Hayes Awards nominations. They’ve always provided clues about what’s hot and what’s not, trends and directions. The awards—both a celebration of the area’s ever-growing theatre community and a composite of its members—always provide an ebb and flow about the fortunes of different theaters and different types of theatre. From the beginning, in the resident theatre arena, the long established Arena Stage has been a strong presence, almost routinely receiving loads of nominations and winning many of them, because Arena for decades was the mother ship of regional theatre companies under founder Zelda Fichandler. But judges, perversely, tended to reward grudgingly newer companies, except for the Shakespeare Theatre Company under Michael Kahn. It took time for Woolly Mammoth to establish itself as a force, for the Studio Theatre under Joy Zinoman to be recognized consistently (its production of Tom Stoppard’s “Indian Ink” was a major breakthrough). Signature Theatre under Eric Schaeffer, on the other hand splashed, onto the scene with its production of “Sweeney Todd” and established itself as the leading interpreter of Sondheim musicals in the area. Likewise, critics and Helen Hayes judges alike immediately took to the Russian pantomime tones of Synetic Theatre and its movement-choreography oriented interpretation of classic works of literature and theater, forcing writers to spell Tsikurishvili (the last name of the star Synetic couple) over and over again. Early on, nobody paid much attention to family or children’s theater, not to mention the more assumed-to-be sedate workings of suburban theater and dinner theater. This year Adventure Theater, under the energetic Michael Bobbitt, produced several nominations, as did Toby’s Dinner Theater under Toby Orenstein, a second time around for her. And Folger, once the Kahn-led troupe that embedded itself at Lansburgh and later Harman Hall, never fared as well as it did this year. This year, all three of its produced plays have been nominated for Outstanding Resident Play: “Henry VIII,” “Hamlet” and “Orestes: A Tragic Romp.” The Shakespeare Theatre did well for itself with 22 nominations, but none were in the outstanding resident play category, where it’s rotating majestic double bill of “Richard II” and “Henry V” were sadly missing. Nor was Michael Hayden, who wore both crowns, nominated for his acting tour de force here in playing both kingly roles, including the best Henry this writer has ever seen outside of perhaps Kenneth Branagh’s movie version. Omissions and inclusions always cause a little controversy, even in this self-celebratory community, and the one that seemed to be almost uniformly decried was the absence of teenaged whiz June Schreiner for her dazzling, high-energy turn as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” a show that’s up for Outstanding Resident Musical and helped Arena snare 23 nominations. Schreiner got deservedly ecstatic notices for her work but failed to convince the Hayes judges. “Oklahoma” gave a rousing opening to Molly Smith and Arena’s new multi-million dollar, elegant space out in Southwest, and the show, which looked as fresh as could be, will be clashing with the Shakespeare Theatre’s co-production (with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago), of Leonard Bernstein’s and Mary Zimmerman’s “Candide.” “Candide” is an example of what you might call out of town resident shows—that is, there’s enough of a local presence in the cast or production to put the dazzling show into the resident category. If there was any justice, this would produce a tie, because I can’t pick between the two. One of my peers in the theatre world, however, loves the Toby Dinner Theater production of “Hairspray” to death. Arena actually had three musicals in the outstanding resident musical category—two others, produced before the big move, were the smash hit production of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” in Duke’s old neighborhood at the Lincoln Theatre, and “The Light in the Piazza," with Molly Smith getting two outstanding director noms for “Piazza” and “Oklahoma.” Some other highlights: Adventure Theater getting an ensemble acting nod in the resident musical category for its production of “”If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” which featured Hollywood as a tap-dancing pig. The outstanding lead actor in a resident play produced a record ten actors vying for the award. Theater J scored heavily with its production of “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza.” Per usual, the Kennedy Center dominated non-resident categories with 23 nominations of all sorts for such shows as “Thurgood,” “South Pacific” and “Golden Age,” part of a wonderful Terence O’Neill mini-festival. Ted Van Griethuysen was nominated yet again, in kingly fashion, for “All’s Well That Ends Well.” The Helen Hayes Awards will be announced April 25 at the annual ceremonies at the Warner Theater. For a complete list of nominations and all things Helen Hayes Awards, click here!

D.C. Theater Gears up for the Holidays

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas No kidding, folks. Looking ahead just a little bit, you might want to brace yourself for Scrooges and Nutcrackers, coming up sooner than you think. We give thanks, and god bless us everyone. Just to start you off, “A Christmas Carol” returns like clockwork to the Ford’s Theatre, beginning Nov. 18 and running through Dec. 31. This is the production adapted by Michael Wilson and starring acclaimed Washington actor Edward Gero, who can go from Shakespeare to Mamet to Scrooge in a heartbeat. Michael Baron directs. Click here for more information At the Olney Theater, Dickens and Scrooge will also be on hand with “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas,” performed by Paul Morella and adapted from Dickens’ original novella and reading tour. Dec. 13 through Jan. 1. Click here for more information and to buy tickets Meanwhile, among many Nutcrackers for the season, you can count on the Washington Ballet and Septime Webre’s version to return to the Warner Theater for a nearly month-long run, Dec. 1 through 24, while the Kennedy Center will have the American Ballet Theatre’s version Dec. 8 through 11. A Couple of Guys Named Othello and Othello and Iago and Iago These days, we’re seeing two versions of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy about Othello, the great Moor general in Renaissance Venice, the passion of his life Desdemona, and Iago, perhaps the most despised villain in Shakespeare outside of Richard III. You can see what you can do with style and silence at the Synetic Theatre’s production now in the midst of a three-way run at its Crystal City space, or take in a more classic, wordier, sound-and-fury version at the Folger Theatre, directed by Robert Richmond, which has already been extended through Dec. 4. Seriously, Folks There’s serious drama afoot all over the region, beginning with a production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall,”his most revealing, autobiographical play about a playwright named Quentin and his tragic, glamorous wife Maggie (hello Miss Monroe). Jose Carrasquillo directs this rarely performed play, Mitchell Hebert stars as Quentin, and Gabriella Fernandez-Coffey is Maggie through Nov. 27. At Arena Stage, history plays a big part in both Amy Freed’s “You, Nero” and Bill Cain’s “Equvicocation.” The latter concerns Shakespeare, the infamous Gunpowder Plot and the relationship between artists and kings. It comes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Cain’s play will run Nov. 18 through Jan. 1 with the cast of the original Oregon Shakespeare Festival production. “You, Nero” is part of Arena’s American Voices New Play Institute, with Freed continuing to work on a play which first opened at South Coast Rep and Berkeley Rep in 2009. It makes its D.C. debut Nov. 25 and runs through Jan. 1. Danny Scheie stars as Nero, an emperor who may have been the first emperor-as-public-celebrity. For one night only, you’ll have a chance to see one of the landmark plays of the 1980s and the tragedy of AIDs when Forum Theatre will stage a benefit performance of “The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer, with an all-star cast of area actors including Holly Twyford, Mitchell Hebert, Will Gartshore, J. Fred Schiffman, Rick Hammerly, Michael Tolaydo and others at the Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring stage, where Forum is in residence on Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Kevin Converses with Michael and Broadway Does Shakespeare Star of the stage and screen Kevin Kline (“Sophie’s Choice”) will join Shakespeare Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Kahn for the second installment in the Classic Conversations series at Sidney Harman Hall Nov. 28. Speaking of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the run will be short but the occasion sounds terrific, with a concert-style staging of “The Boys from Syracuse” with a book by David Ives (“The Heir Apparent”) hooked up to Rodgers and Hart’s classic score. “The Boys” is of course a Broadway musical version of “The Comedy of Errors” which features two sets of twins unaware of each other, the kids from Ephesus. Nov. 4 through 6.

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.

An Intimate ‘Anne Frank’ at Olney

Olney Theatre Center's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," playing in the harrowingly compact Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab through Oct. 23, has a remarkable young actress in the title role.

Celebrating Washington Theater and More, Tonight Through April 29

Everybody in Washington's theater community will show up tonight for the 28th annual Helen Hayes Awards at the Warner Theatre, but that's only the beginning for what this year is theatreWeek in Washington, which would be April 23-29. Sponsored and spearheaded by theatreWashington, the D.C. group that supports, promotes and represents Washington area theatres, artists and audiences, theatreWeek will make its debut with a series of special events including Playtime, a series of events aimed squarely at children. The Helen Hayes Awards and Ovation Gala at the Warner Theatre and J.W. Marriott Hotel kicks everything off, featuring awards that showcase the general and specific excellence of Washington's theatre world, with special honors going to two-time, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey. On Wednesday, D.C. professionals and Washington theater-lovers hook up with "Show Tunes and Cocktails with Joshua Morgan" from 7 to 8 p.m. at Napoleon Bistro and Lounge in Adams Morgan. On Thursday, it's time for "Theatre Critics: It's Only Their Opinion, What They Do and How They Do It." (While not attending, I can be reached at The Georgetowner, if you want my opinion). Actually, it's a conversation with Washington Post Critic Peter Marks and other critics from 7 to 8 p.m. (Location to be announced) On Friday, you get a sneak peek at "In Rehearsal," a new book by actor and director Gary Sloan, 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Bus Boys and Poets at 14th and V Streets, N.W. And then there's Playtime, with workshops, classes and tours for kids at 13 theatres throughout the region on April 22, 27, 28 and 29. Participating are Adventure Theatre, Compass Rose Studio Theater, Faction of Fools Theatre Company, Folger Theatre, Imagination Stage, National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, the National Theatre, the Puppet Company, Round House Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, the Theatre Lab and Toby's Dinner Theatre.

Theater Shorts: December 3

As You Like It Directed by Michael Attenborough, with Zoe Waites as Rosalind, the best and smartest of all of Shakespeare’s female characters, and Derek Smith as Jacques, who gets to deal with the “Seven Ages of Man” speech. Extended at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre through Dec. 14. The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures When Tony Kushner writes, you always have to pay attention. The author of “Angels in America” always has something to say. In this production of a new play by Kushner, directed by John Vreeke, a longshoreman and lifelong Communist confronts his offspring. At Theater J through Dec. 21. Five Guys Named Moe A paean to the music of Louis Jordan, king of the jukebox, with a modern feel—all rolling out at the Funky Butt Club with tunes like “Let the Good Times Roll.” At Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater through Dec. 28. The Gift of Nothing At the Kennedy Center’s Theater for Young Audiences, a world-premiere production of a play conceived and written by Patrick McDonnell, Aaron Posner and Erin Weaver with music and lyrics by Andy Milton. Directed by Posner, based on the book by Patrick McDonnell. Based also on characters from the comic strip “Mutts” (Mooch, the tuxedo kitty, and his pal Earl, the small mutt with a big heart). At the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater through Dec. 28. The Nutcracker The 10th anniversary production of Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre’s version of the Tchaikovsky favorite, with American themes, set in Victorian Georgetown. At the Warner Theatre through Dec. 28. A Christmas Carol The annual rendition of the Charles Dickens classic, once again featuring stellar Washington stage star Edward Gero in the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. At Ford’s Theatre through Jan. 1. Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol A adaptation by prolific playwright Ken Ludwig (with Jack Ludwig) of Dickens’s tale of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, directed by Jerry Whiddon. At Adventure Theater through Jan. 1.

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

McDonagh’s ‘Lonesome West’ at the Keegan

An actor's dream for all concerned, the play, set in an Irish village, runs through Aug. 27.

A Long Night at the Oscars

The 92nd Academy Awards show, on Feb. 9, spread itself like a big pillow on a small bed, but it had its moments.

‘Zombie: The American,” Dystopic America in 2063 at Woolly Mammoth

There’s a literal-mindedness to much of playwright Robert O’Hara’s work that you have to accept on its own terms. If you accept what you see and hear, it eventually makes sense, in a weird, hard tough-love kind of way. That was certainly the case for “Antebellum,” which mixed up strange-fruit racism from the Old South. That play was set in Atlanta when “Gone With the Wind” was released, and had tenuous and sexual connections to Hitler’s Nazis. It was not easy to take, or embrace — but it was always hair-raising and compelling. With O’Hara’s latest play, “Zombie: The American,” directed with panache and style by Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s artistic director, Howard Schalwitz, there’s definitely a similar feel. The new play envisions, among many things, a dystopian America in 2063 after a flood decimates America, wiping out the Atlantic seaboard and turning the United States into a barely second-rate power. O’Hara, a great master of mashing styles and themes, has approached his plot in the Jacobean manner of dark and bloody tragedies, set to contemporary pop art themes. His creation includes maps and written histories installed in the lobby that audience members are encouraged to add to as they see fit. On stage the U.S. has elected its first gay president, the Lord President Thom Valentine (Sean Meehan), complete with first gentleman Chase Valentine (James Seol). And there is trouble, trouble, trouble in the land: a civil war threatens in the West; a new mineral is discovered, with the world drooling at the borders — especially the United States of Africa, which has sent uninvited peace-keepers, led by its Secretary General Abidemi (Dawn Ursula). There is treachery afoot: the first gentleman is having an affair with a staffer who is a clone; the defense secretary, General Alexander (Thomas Keegan), is plotting a coup; and the Dr. Strangelove-like Secretary of State, Jessica Bloom (played by the always wonderful Sarah Marshall), proposes that the president get help from, you guessed it, zombies. Turns out a Council of Zombies, complete with a speaker, chairwoman and a minority whip, have been in the basement of the White House advising administrations for years. But the price per counsel session is a human body. And there’s more — a peacekeeper has been murdered and the vice president is missing, that is, until Lord President receives a nasty package containing his head. Betrayal, murder and impending wars, both civil and external — what’s a Lord President to do? The Secretary of State suggests sending in the zombies, a dicey proposition that could mean the destruction of what remains of the United States and perhaps the world. OK, sure, it sounds like just about any zombie movie ever made. But after a while you start to occupy the world of the set —which is designed with verve and mobility by Misha Kachman — and includes a Mount Rushmore-based White House that plants itself with wobbly authority on the stage. After a while, you get into the rhythm of O’Hara’s dialogue, which is more classical in style than today’s social-media-drenched excuse for language. Often the proceedings play like a mannered, stylized reality show that ratchets up the tension to the popping point, or "The Nightly News with Brian Williams." The cast dives into this with a relish resembling a zombie lunch hour. Most effective, if not most dramatic, is the work of Meehan as the Lord President (the country adopted British-style titles as part of a deal with England to help save it from itself). Meehan seems addled, befuddled, seething, betwitched, bottomed and bewildered. He makes the Lord President’s confusion seem like a form of sanity when everyone else has lost theirs. Increasingly frustrated and angry, he tries to do the right thing, if only he knew what it was. Sarah Marshall delivers another one of her coolly insane characters, contemplating apocalyptical matters with smooth aplomb. Dawn Ursula is, as always, in something of a royal fever, dominating the stage with merely her entrance. But the key to all of this is O’Hara and his gift for mashing up matters. His style of language keeps you aware he has something serious on his mind, even as you are ghoulishly entertained. And it is funny: faced with a payment of a clone, the zombies are outraged, insisting, “We are not vegetarians!” For much of it O’Hara stays poised on the tightrope of total absurdity, the juggling of pop-culture themes (like zombies, the Tea Party and same-sex sex) and coursework in American history, stately stated in the classic manner. Along the way though, you begin to guess where he’s headed. This is, at heart, an angry play about injustice and the betrayal of American dreams, and its original sin. O’Hara has the fever of the big theme in his play. And under the pressure of myriad crises, the Lord President climaxes with an angry, explosive tirade about America, that we are all zombies, in the basement or not. In this context, it is not catharsis, but a display of particularly wind-scattered firecrackers.