A few noteworthy “firsts” make Guinness World Records. More often, they don’t draw the attention of record keepers. They’re the firsts that escape detection on hype meters — milder milestones signaling advances of smaller magnitudes. Washington theater has had some seismic firsts over the years but, perusing the schedules for this fall and winter, biggies are hard to find. Here are eight of the subtler sort.
First Shakespeare Theatre offering in a bar: If you think of Washington’s premier classical company as being confined within the four walls of the Lansburgh Theater on Seventh Street NW or Sidney Harman Hall on F, think again. For the National Theatre of Scotland’s visiting production of “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” — a hit of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe — Shakespeare is loosening up a bit and moving the proceedings to a Washington tavern. The play with music, written by David Greig and directed by Wils Wilson, is performed by five actors amid a pub’s imbibing patrons, who take you on their idea of a magical mystery tour. Keep an eye on www.shakespearetheatre.org to find out which D.C. emporium will, come Nov. 14, be its host.
First play under new management: Ryan Rilette, formerly of Northern California’s Marin Theatre Company, arrived in Bethesda a month ago as the third producing artistic director in Round House Theatre’s history. The first play opening (Sept. 5) under his stewardship, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” was selected by his predecessor, Blake Robison, and was directed by Jeremy Skidmore, but it is up to Rilette to oversee production of Rajiv Joseph’s drama about the chaos of Iraq’s capital city after the U.S. invasion. Eric Hissom (Folger Theatre’s “Arcadia” and “Cyrano de Bergerac”) plays the caged and starved title character.
First Annie Baker one-two punch: Baker’s marvelous gimlet eye was on display at Studio Theatre in its 2010 production of “Circle Mirror Transformation,” a play that revealed the foibles of five members of an adult education drama class, under the tutelage of a histrionic instructor. Baker is back now in D.C., her voice echoing on two stages: now at Theater J in “Body Awareness,” set during a week devoted to contemplating body image at a New England college. Then in November, “The Aliens” — a play she has described as being about “three dudes sitting outside a coffee shop in Vermont” — rises at Studio, in a production directed by Lila Neugebauer.
Playwrights receiving first main stage productions in D.C.: Adding new writerly ingredients is essential to the health of Washington’s first-rank theaters. This autumn, potentially nourishing debuts will occur at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, with Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” (through Sept. 30) and Mia Chung’s “You For Me For You” (Nov. 5) ; at Theater J with Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s “Our Class” (Oct. 10); at Studio Theatre with Mike Bartlett’s “Contractions” (Jan. 2), Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s “An Iliad” (Dec. 21) and Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of “Invisible Man” (opened Sept. 5); at Round House with Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger” and at Signature Theatre with Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City” (Oct. 2).