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.

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.

“Kinky Boots” Has Danced into the Kennedy Center

The touring company of the Tony Award-winning musical runs through July 10.

Back to the Block: D.C. Rapper Wale

Fans heard his latest hit, "My PYT," among many others, at Café Asia on June 9.

‘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.

‘The Merchant of Venice’ at the Kennedy Center

Shakespeare's most complicated "problem play" runs through July 30.

WNO Debut for a Countess Who Tap Dances

Amanda Majeski will play Countess Almaviva in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" at the Kennedy Center through Oct. 2.

‘An Octoroon’ at Woolly Mammoth

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has achieved some miracles with this play.

‘Evita’ Seduces at Olney

This Montgomery County production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber favorite runs through July 24.

Page-to-Stage Festival This Weekend

It's time for the 15th annual explosion of free readings, open rehearsals and near-full performances.