Spring Preview Theater: Around the world in 21 days

The Kennedy Center's International Theater Festival brings 23 works from 19 different countries to Washington D.C. The Post's Peter Marks highlights a few shows he's particularly interested in seeing. (Jessica Rosgaard & Jonathan Elker/The Washington Post)

At the Kennedy Center come March, all the world’s ON stage.

From China and Chile the plays will arrive, and from France and Kuwait and Canada and Australia and Mexico and Israel and South Africa. From every continent, in fact, except theater-free Antarctica, for what is shaping up as the most extensive festival of global drama in Washington in memory.

Twenty-two presentations from 19 countries will fill the center’s halls and theaters from March 10 to 30 for the “World Stages” festival, under the direction of Alicia Adams, the center’s globe-trotting vice president for international programming. Drawing on her experience in assembling the center’s many arts extravaganzas — events that over the years have celebrated the cultures of, among other places, the Arab world, the Far East and the Nordic nations — Adams and her staff are bringing together renowned theater people from around the world for 13 full productions, four exhibitions, three staged readings and two panel discussions.

Washington is an international destination that comes across as ambivalent about lavishly exploring these connections through art. In the theater sphere, the visits by ensembles from Asian, European, Latin American and African localities are sporadic. Were it not for a few local troupes with a focus on Spanish-speaking drama, some short stops by foreign companies at the behest of the Kennedy Center and the Shakespeare Theatre Company, some university events and one-night programs at various embassies, audiences here would not have much exposure to the dramatic noises being made elsewhere on the planet.

Plaudits are due, then, to Adams and the center, for giving us an opportunity to broaden the landscape of our own theater journeys. Arriving here in March will be highly esteemed and utterly new names alike, Tony and Olivier Award winners and onetime Oscar nominees, as well people who might someday be on those lists. Peter Brook, the tireless directorial explorer, will be represented by “The Suit,” a play by his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, based on a South African story. Dame Janet Suzman, who appeared at the center in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Coriolanus” and was nominated for an Academy Award for “Nicholas and Alexandra,” stars in the American debut of Lara Foot’s “Solomon and Marion,” from the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town. And more recent Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) is featured in another American premiere, Paris-based Theatre de l’Atelier’s “Savannah Bay,” by Marguerite Duras, directed by Didier Bezace.

“Green Snake” is China’s contribution to the Kennedy Center's World Stages festival. (Chai Meilin)

They will perform with groups such as Israel’s fascinating Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble: 11 deaf and blind actors, in “Not by Bread Alone,” a play in which an audience becomes acquainted with each of them as they go through the ritual of baking bread on stage. “Each one has a ‘handler,’ ” Adams said about the actors, “and each one is telling their own story.” The work is performed in Hebrew with English supertitles and American Sign Language interpreters.

Australia will be represented by the American premiere of Melbourne Theatre Company’s “Rupert,” a play by David Williamson about media mogul Rupert Murdoch. In the wake of last year’s Nordic Cool festival, the National Theatre of Iceland shows up with “Harmsaga,” a contemporary love story by Mikael Torfason and directed by Una Thorleifsdottir. And as a result of links forged in the Kennedy Center’s Arabesque festival, Anglo-Kuwaiti playwright Sulayman Al-Bassam — adapter of the “Richard III” that was part of that 2009 event — returns for a reading of his new work, “The Petrol Station.”

“It’s still just a slice of what exists in these countries,” Adams said, “but I think it’s some of the most interesting work that’s being done there.”

Other slices: A version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a collaboration between Britain’s Bristol Old Vic and South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, devisers of the mesmerizing puppetry in “War Horse”; “Incendios,” a drama from Mexico’s Tapioca Inn theater company by Lebanese Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad; the National Theatre of China’s myth-infused “Green Snake,” adapted and directed by Tian Qinxin; Canada’s Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes, in “Penny Plain,” and from Chile, La Mafia Teatro’s production of playwright Ariel Dorfman’s “La Muerte y La Doncella,” known to American theater and filmgoers as “Death and the Maiden.”

The plays will roll in and out of the Eisenhower, Terrace and Family theaters throughout the festival’s 21 days.

World Stages International Theater Festival

March 10-30 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. Prices vary by performance. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org.

Five others to watch

The spring theater season, however, unfolds with corresponding ripples of possibility in other parts of town.

●At Woolly Mammoth Theatre, a production this month of —take a deep breath — “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.” It’s a play within a play about acting and history, written by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Michael John Garces. 202-393-3939. www.woollymammoth.net.

●At Signature Theatre, the world-premiere musical adaptation this month of “Beaches.” Director Eric Schaeffer brings to the stage a version of the Iris Rainer Dart novel that on screen became a 21-hanky salute to friendship (and the emotive abilities of Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey). Dart has collaborated on a score with composer David Austin and the book of the musical, with Thom Thomas. 703-820-9771. www.signature-theatre.org.

●At Arena Stage, the world premiere in March of “Camp David.” Lawrence Wright’s drama relates the 1978 events surrounding the peace accords negotiated by President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. In the first casting announced for the production, directed by Molly Smith, Richard Thomas stars as Carter and Ron Rifkin portrays Begin. 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org.

●At Shakespeare Theatre Company, the area premiere in March of “Brief Encounter.” Broadway cheered in 2010 when Kneehigh Theatre of Cornwall, England, brought to New York this adaptation with music and movement of the 1945 film and the Noël Coward play “Still Life.” Several members of the original cast, including Tony nominee Hannah Yelland, reunite for a limited tour that includes Washington. 202-547-1122. www.shakespearetheatre.org.

●At Folger Theatre, a brief visit in May of New York-based Fiasco Theatre’s acclaimed “Cymbeline,” after a full run there of its “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Fiasco, known for a style exuding exhilarating freshness, here tackles one of the late Shakespearean romances, a piece of beguiling if sometimes elusive charms. 202-544-7077. www.folger.edu,

Best Bets:Theater critic Peter Marks picks 11 can't-miss shows.

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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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