Next Season Preview: Woolly Mammoth Theatre

Fresh today in our ongoing assessment of the newly announced theater seasons in and around DC for 2014-15: Woolly Mammoth.  (Previously covered:  Shakespeare Theatre Company.)

Company trademark: Envelope-pushing contemporary plays.

The season:

— “Marie Antoinette,” by David Adjmi, directed by Yury Urnov. (Sept. 15-Oct. 12)

— “The Russians are Coming:  A Festival of Radical New Theatre from Moscow”: [The four plays are “The Scumbags”;  “Katya, Sonya, Polya, Galya, Vera, Olya, Tanya…”;  “Babushki” and “Papa Leaves, Mama Lies, Grandma Dies.”] (Oct. 25-Nov. 9.)

— “Famous Puppet Death Scenes” created and performed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. (Dec. 9-Jan. 4, 2015)

— “Cherokee,” by Lisa D’Amour, directed by John Vreeke. (Feb. 9-March 8, 2015)

— “Lights Rise on Grace,” by Chad Beckim, director by Michael John Garces. (March 30-April 26, 2015)

— “Zombie: The American,” by Robert O’Hara, directed by Howard Shalwitz. (May 25-June 21, 2015)

Highlights: Playwrights Adjmi, D’Amour and O’Hara, all with strong Woolly production records (“Stunning,” “Detroit” and “Bootycandy,” respectively) return with new works. One of them, O’Hara’s “Zombie: The American,” a world premiere comedy, is set in the future during the administration of America’s first openly gay president  who, among other things, consults a council of zombies in the White House basement. Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette,” which had its debut production at the Yale Repertory Theatre, will feature the ever more impressive company member Kimberly Gilbert in the title role; D’Amour’s “Cherokee,” the story of two couples discovering more about each other while camping in the Texas woods, opened to mixed reviews last month at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater. The Calgary, Alberta-based Old Trout Puppet Workshop brings cheek to the holidays with an irreverent survey of death scenes it declares are “culled from the absolute best puppet shows in history.” Beckim’s “Lights Rise on Grace” is a love story that earned strong notices at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2007. And the ambitious “The Russians Are Coming” festival of four works will bring 75  actors, directors and other Russian theater artists for a 15-day Woolly residency. All will be performed in Russian with English translation.

Analysis: Year in, year out, Woolly’s list pulsates with novelty, and next season’s is no exception. One could have hoped that, given the company’s vanguard role–and the plans in 2015 for a region-wide festival of premiere plays by women–Woolly might have found, out of eight playwriting and directing positions in its American entries, room for more than a single female contributor. Nevertheless, artistic director Howard Shalwitz has assembled a potentially strong roster, its juicy centerpiece being, for me, the festival of four Moscow plays arriving in late October and early November. (Since consciousnesses are slowly being raised, it should be noted that one of the four Russian directors, Svetlana Zemlyakova, is a woman; The others are Dmitry Krymov, Kirill Serebrennikov and  Yury Muravitsky.) The hosting of these subversive Russian works–even their titles are rambunctious–reflects Shalwitz’s growing absorption in theater practices in Eastern Europe and Russia, a part of the world to which he’s traveled repeatedly in recent years. It’s a boon to DC’s theater ecology that he’s forging ties so aggressively to international drama; Woolly’s festival represents the most intense focus on contemporary Russian theater here since Studio Theatre’s founding artistic director Joy Zinoman devoted practically her entire season a decade ago to company-generated productions of Russian plays. It’s bound to be a high point this coming fall.

As for the American plays in the season: Woolly is doubling down on three writers with whom it has found success, most recently with D’Amour, whose “Detroit” was a hit last fall. Woolly has a history of forging such alliances, going back to the days when it championed the work of playwrights like Nicky Silver. For a company forever looking to break molds, loyalty to writers is a tradition that never feels old.

 

 

 

 

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.

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Joe Heim · February 9, 2014