Editors' pick

Arena Stage Homecoming Day

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Editorial Review

For Arena Stage, it's a homecoming

By Stephanie Merry
Friday, October 22, 2010

Contrary to appearances, the behemoth of a shimmering beacon that recently landed in Southwest Washington is not a UFO, but rather Arena Stage's brand-new digs: the Mead Center.

With 200,000 square feet and multiple stages, the complex is a sight to behold, and on Saturday, it will be open to visitors. As if the draw of spectacular architecture and the smell of fresh paint isn't enough, an imposing menu of free performances and events should have theater fans hotfooting it to the waterfront destination.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony kicks things off at 11:30 a.m. A number of events require free tickets, and if you didn't snap them up online, there's still hope. A limited number will be up for grabs at 10 a.m., with lines probably forming long before that. Wondering whether the events are worth getting out of bed for? Here's a rundown of standouts:

The Kreeger Theater plays host to a slate of top performers, including Tony Award nominees Brad Oscar at 1:15 and Kate Baldwin at 2:15 p.m. Meanwhile, Alice Ripley, who starred in "Next to Normal" (and won a Tony for her performance), showcases her talents at 4:15 p.m.

The Kogod Cradle offers the chance to meet the people behind the scenes when playwrights take the stage. Karen Zacarias, the woman behind 2009's "Legacy of Light," reads from her new work at 12:30 p.m. Perhaps some of the most sought-after tickets will be for the 1:30 p.m. event, which promises time with Anna Deavere Smith. She will discuss her well-received "Let Me Down Easy," which consists of vignettes about the human condition and makes its local debut at Arena in December.

The first production to grace the Fichandler Stage is an old favorite - Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" - and every hour from 1 to 5 p.m., ticket-holders can get a sneak preview.

If long lines aren't your thing, here are some promising acts for ticketless visitors:

The tapping Manzari Brothers, who dazzled audiences during the repeatedly extended run of "Sophisticated Ladies," perform on the outdoor stage at 2:30 p.m. Cabaret performances will take place hourly all afternoon, including a spotlight on Helen Hayes Award winner Eleasha Gamble, recently of Signature Theatre's "Chess," at 12:15 p.m. Other area companies, including Washington Improv Theater and Synetic Theater, will also be getting in on the celebration with performances in the rehearsal hall.

Those bringing their little ones can find entertainment in the form of the Blue Sky Puppets at 1 p.m. on the terrace and an arts and crafts area, which will be open for business from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.