D.C. theater to toast the plays of England, Scotland, France
By Peter Marks,
As if Washington’s lively bar scene were not already packed with drama, it is soon going to be the setting for an actual one.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company, staging a play for the first time in a city space not originally intended for theater, plans to take up residence this fall in a D.C. tavern for the run of a show designed for presentation in a pub.
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” a piece by British playwright David Greig that garnered enthusiastic reviews at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival, is one of five works from Britain and France that will make up the Shakespeare company’s burgeoning international programming for the 2012-13 season.
Along with its production of “Prudencia Hart,” the National Theatre of Scotland will be bringing back to Sidney Harman Hall this fall its celebrated Iraq War drama, “Black Watch,” a hit in its first visit here in January 2011.
“I, Peaseblossom” and “I, Malvolio,” a pair of solo shows by British actor Tim Crouch, will try to enliven Shakespeare for younger audiences this winter, with the stories of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Twelfth Night,” recounted by characters from the two comedies.
And from Paris, the Lansburgh Theatre will welcome in December a revival of the French-language version of Christopher Hampton’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” directed by American actor John Malkovich. He played Valmont opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1988 movie adaptation directed by Stephen Frears. (The offerings are in addition to the company’s regular six-play season.)
In the wake of its successful engagements of works such as “Phedre” in 2009 from the National Theatre in London and “The Great Game: Afghanistan” the following year from Tricycle Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company has filled a vacuum as the city’s most important home for British companies. The Kennedy Center has established a vital link with Australian theater and, as a result, gave Washington two of the most accomplished classics in recent years, the Sydney Theatre Company’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 2009 and “Uncle Vanya” last summer.
But the richness and ingenuity of Shakespeare’s border-crossing productions have added a new page to the city’s theater menu. That menu will feel particularly apt when “Prudencia Hart” comes to town, from Nov. 14 to Dec. 9. The company is in the final stages of contract talks with a pub near Dupont Circle to serve as a 120-seat home for the play-with-music, which looks with a gimlet eye at academics who study Scottish border ballads.
Refreshments of a bracing variety are, if not integral to “Prudencia Hart,” a recommended spirit-lifter for the occasion. “They serve whiskey during the show,” Chris Jennings, Shakespeare’s managing director, said of the National Theatre of Scotland, “and they’ve already negotiated with a company to provide the whiskey.
“It’s a great way to introduce D.C. audiences to more site-specific work,” Jennings added, referring to a theater genre that has been manifesting in Europe and the United States over the past 15 years. Locally, smaller troupes with a need to be inventive about venues — such as Solas Nua, a producer of contemporary Irish work, and the Capital Fringe Festival— have been the most active organizers of site-specific shows.
The Scottish productions reflect a strengthening relationship between the Shakespeare and the National Theatre of Scotland: “Black Watch” will precede “Prudencia Hart,” with performances at the Harman running from Sept. 19 to Oct. 7.
The visit of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” was more serendipitous. It was arranged, Jennings said, because artistic director Michael Kahn saw it in Paris at the Theatre de l’Atelier “and was very excited about it.”
Malkovich will be in Washington to stage the piece in the Lansburgh, where it will be presented with English subtitles and run Dec. 6-9. Crouch’s solo Shakespeare pieces will come to Washington Jan. 23-26 and be staged in the Forum space in Harman Hall.