NEW YORK — From the outset, the box-office appeal of “Really Really” astonished actor-turned-playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo. He was surprised when Eric Schaeffer, Signature Theatre’s artistic director, green-lighted his play, about irretrievably self-absorbed and entitled college students, for a world-premiere run in Arlington County, and startled again when it became the most successful nonmusical the company has ever produced.
“It was a delightful start, the reception in D.C.,” Colaizzo said recently, over lunch at Bond 45, a restaurant just off Times Square. “But in New York, I didn’t want to take that as acceptance.”
He needn’t have worried. In a new production directed by David Cromer and featuring Zosia Mamet — daughter of playwright David and star of the hit HBO series “Girls” — “Really Really” has repeated its D.C. success. MCC Theater, the off-Broadway company that produced it here, has extended it twice, with a closing now set for Saturday. Over its run, a steady stream of theater notables has filled the seats of the sold-out Lucille Lortel Theatre; at a matinee a few weeks ago, actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick and playwright Neil Labute were among the appreciative throng that packed the place.
The previously unheralded Colaizzo has been served well by “Really Really” — and so, by extension, has Washington theater. A positive reception in the outside world is not the be-all or end-all for a D.C.-bred play; in fact, some actors and others who have focused their careers on District stages shrug scornfully at the notion of out-of-town validation. Yet there is added psychic capital to be tallied, and pride of place to be recognized, in a city that can regularly export its theatrical wares to other cosmopolitan centers.
Washington, of course, has been making plays that the world takes for almost as long as there has been a regional theater movement in this country: Back in the 1960s, Arena Stage famously minted the original production of Howard Sackler’s “The Great White Hope,” which did wonders for the careers of a couple of young actors named James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Still, too few plays have moved on of late quite as visibly and deftly as “Really Really” to declare categorically that Washington’s star is again ascendant on the national stage. On the evidence, though, of “Really Really” and other D.C.-honed plays and musicals receiving productions in New York City and elsewhere, it is clear that the footprint of Washington’s nonprofit theater world is getting bigger.
Four shows that got a start or a grooming in Washington have landed on Broadway this season, and two were D.C. world premieres: Craig Wright’s “Grace,” the existential thriller starring Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon, was unveiled by Woolly Mammoth Theatre in the fall of 2004, and “Scandalous,” a musical about evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson by Kathie Lee Gifford, made its debut at Signature in 2007 as “Saving Aimee.” The Steppenwolf Theatre revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” that closed this month at the Booth Theatre was featured at Arena Stage two seasons ago. And “Ann,” Holland Taylor’s solo show about the late Texas governor Ann Richards, had a crucial booking late in 2011 at the Kennedy Center.