Washington theater’s best acts for 2014


Jacobi Howard (left) and Marlon Russ in the Theater Alliance production of “Broke-ology.” (C. Stanley Photography)
December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas, Backstage readers! It’s that end-of-the-year “best of” season, when every gaffe, meme and hook you tried so hard to forget comes back to haunt you in top 10 form. You’re ready to leave 2013 behind, aren’t you?

You’re in luck, because Backstage is all about the next big thing. There’s a shiny new year of theater ahead. Here, some 2014 highlights to get you excited about what’s in store for Theaterland.

The Anacostia Playhouse is up and running: This year, we saw the beloved H Street Playhouse get priced out of the very neighborhood in Northeast it helped to revitalize. But owner Adele Robey set up shop across the river, at 2020 Shannon Pl., bringing her vision and energy to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse she christened Anacostia Playhouse. (Hey, on-the-nose naming worked last time.) So far, the new digs have already housed Theater Alliance’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” and “Broke-ology” and Pinky Swear’s “Bondage.” Here’s to seeing what’s next for the newest game in town.

Nas is coming to the Kennedy Center: For an entire week, the Kennedy Center is presenting “One Mic: Hip-Hop Culture Worldwide,” a festival of hip-hop exhibitions and performances. Nas will perform two concerts with NSO Pops. Get ready to feel old, because Nas will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Illmatic,” his debut album. Also appearing at the Kennedy Center: Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Patinkin’s “Homeland” may be touch-and-go, but Saul is unimpeachable. While you wait for the shows to start, just try to imagine what all of those people would say if they happened to bump into one another in the Hall of Flags.

Folger is getting around: For the first time, the Folger Theatre will present Shakespeare in the round. Bring all your hard-core Elizabethan friends! Robert Richmond will direct “Richard III” during the winter of our discontent (so, January).

Ladies to the front: We all know the stats on female playwrights getting produced are, to be generous, totally abysmal and bordering on apocalyptic.

On the bright side, 2014’s slate has female playwrights popping up all over the place. An incomplete list to whet your appetites: Jackie Sibblies Drury (“We Are Proud to Present . . .” at Woolly Mammoth); Nina Raine (“Tribes,” Studio Theatre); Quiara Alegría Hudes (“Water by the Spoonful,” winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, also at Studio); Lisa Loomer (“Living Out,” GALA Hispanic Theatre); Anu Yadav (who will also perform her “Meena’s Dream” in a world premiere at Forum Theatre); Johnna Adams (“Gidion’s Knot,” Forum); Theresa Rebeck of “Smash” fame (“Seminar,” Round House Theatre); Lauren Gunderson (“I and You,” Olney Theatre Center); Carol Wolf (“The Thousandth Night,” Metrostage); Kathleen Cahill (“Charm,” Taffety Punk); Rosemary Jenkinson (“A Midsummer Night’s Riot,” Keegan Theatre); and Iris Rainer Dart (“Beaches,” at Signature Theatre, and yes, this is the world-premiere musical based on Dart’s novel, which also inspired the 1988 movie that brought us all “Wind Beneath My Wings”).

Two extra-honorable mentions to Pinky Swear, which produces female playwrights all day, every day, and Adventure Theatre MTC, which has three productions by women coming up next year: Joan Cushing, (book, lyrics and music for “Miss Nelson Is Missing,” based on the book), Tracey Power (“The Jungle Book,” based on the novel) and Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann (“Pinkalicious,” based on their novel of same name). Four female playwrights! They said this day would never come.

Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage: Turner, who starred in Arena Stage’s production of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” will return to Arena in German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.” The antiwar play will be directed by artistic director Molly Smith in one of Arena’s rare departures from all-American writers.

Seeing double at the Helen Hayes Awards: As is only fitting for an event dubbed Theater Prom, the Helen Hayes Awards got a makeover last year. The 2014 ceremony will be the first to give out trophies in an expanded and restructured system: Productions are divided into Equity (Hayes) and non-Equity (Helen) groups, plus a real salary requirement for being considered “professional” and therefore eligible for consideration. Does double the awards mean double the length of an already almost-three-hour ceremony? Probably not, but who knows? No matter what happens, the Helen Hayes Awards will always have an open bar.

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