Preview: ‘The Ramayana,’ ‘Clybourne Park,’ ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

If this summer is any indication, 2011 might be the year of the do-over. Along with Arena Stage’s restaging of “Oklahoma!” (which opened the inaugural season at the new Mead Center), three other area companies are resurrecting productions from last season. Popular with crowds and critics alike, these shows establish why one good turn might deserve another.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

Scena Theatre artistic director Robert McNamara had wanted to produce Oscar Wilde’s beloved comedy since 1978, when he was studying Irish literature in Dublin, but he couldn’t find a way to justify it and make it relevant. It turns out Wilde just needed to get a little wilder.

As in, Billy Wilder, director of “Some Like it Hot.”

Scena’s all-time moneymaker features a total gender swap — all the female parts are played by men, and women take on the male roles. As an added twist, McNamara set the play in 1920s America, infusing it with flappers and jazz.

“As an audience member, when you come to see Cecily and Gwendolyn, and they have bulging biceps and these wonderful cocktail dresses our Russian designers created, it’s kind of surreal,” McNamara says.

It may sound campy, but it’s also a way to look at themes of feminized men and empowered women. And McNamara gets a second crack at staging a favorite play.

“It’s just great doing Oscar Wilde, period,” McNamara says. “The language is iridescent — one bon mot after another.”

Through Aug. 14. H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. 703-683-2824. www.scenatheater.org . 16-$40.

‘Clybourne Park’

For a theater like Woolly Mammoth, which is devoted to staging new plays, every production is a gamble. Until the curtain rises, it is anybody’s guess what will resonate with theatergoers.

“If we had known that ‘Clybourne Park’ was going to win the Pulitzer Prize and that audiences were going to respond the way they have, we would have scheduled nine or 10 weeks of a run right off the bat,” says Woolly’s managing director, Jeffrey Herr-mann. “So I think the remount is a way of capturing that energy when we see it, getting that lightning in a bottle.”

“Clybourne Park,” which was written by Bruce Norris, won the Helen Hayes Award for outstanding resident play, along with a best director nod for Howard Shalwitz, who is returning with the rest of the cast.

The play takes inspiration from “A Raisin in the Sun,” set in the house the Youngers — the black characters from Lorraine Hansberry’s play — buy in 1950s suburban Chicago. But Norris’s story offers the perspective of the white family selling the house, along with their prejudiced neighbors. The play fast-forwards to modern day, when a white couple buys the same house in what is now a predominantly black neighborhood. Plays about race relations can get heavy, but “Clybourne” applies ingenious wit to the topic, which might explain why it resonated with Washingtonians.

It’s “a show that’s asking questions about race and gentrification in really pointed, fresh and funny ways,” Herrmann says.

Thursday through Aug. 14. Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW. 202-393-3939. www.woollymammoth.net. $30-$65. Thursday is pay-what-you-can.

‘The Ramayana’

Constellation Theatre Company’s smash hit, based on Indian mythology, was so popular that even artistic director Alison Stockman was surprised by the response.

“The last two weeks — and especially the last week — we were turning away as many people as we were able to seat in the house, which was really unusual for us,” says Stockman, who is also the director. “So we thought, if this many people want to see the show and haven’t had the chance, we’d like to bring it back for them.”

Critics found much to celebrate, including the fantastical plot about the blue-skinned exiled prince, Rama, in search of his kidnapped wife. Other spectacles include Kendra Rai’s stunning costumes and Tom Teasley’s onstage music. (He won a Helen Hayes Award for sound design.)

Half the cast is returning, and Stockman thinks one addition might have new customers flocking to Source. Matthew McGloin, a standout in this season’s “On the Razzle,” will take on the role of the monkey, Hanuman.

Noting the show’s broad appeal, Stockman says one fan of the last staging is taking two groups to see the play — one from his yoga studio and one from his law office.

Aug. 4-21. Source, 1835 14th St. NW. 800-494-8497. www.constellationtheatre.org. $25-$35.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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