The Shakespeare Theatre Company has chosen F. Murray Abraham as this year’s recipient of the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre. The award will be presented at the Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala.
Like a good prom, park or party, the gala has a theme. This year’s festivities are inspired by the great characters of Shakespeare.
Alan Paul, STC’s artistic associate director and director of the night’s entertainment, promises the 90 minutes of performances will be “multidisciplinary,” even as they highlight the major players from the Shakespeare canon. The show will go beyond the Bard to “Shakespeare’s influence on other art forms such as opera, dance and musical theater.” He’s still in the early planning stages and can’t really guarantee much besides “some fun surprises.”
Even though Paul’s work has already begun, the performers don’t arrive in town until the day before — or even the day of — the gala. “Sometimes we’re rehearsing until 6:00 or 6:30 for a 7:30 show,” Paul said.
Individual tickets to the Oct. 15 event are $750 or $1,000; a pair of tickets with some VIP treatment is $5,000. Tables start at $10,000 and go up to $50,000 for a table of 12.
Abraham’s theater cred is, according to Paul, “unparalleled.” He played Shylock, the stereotype-spawning flesh-collector in “The Merchant of Venice” for the Theatre for a New Audience off-Broadway. He’s performed in “Uncle Vanya,” “King Lear,” “Oedipus Rex” and “Waiting for Godot,” among others.
Abraham, 72, earned an Academy Award in 1985 for his performance as Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus.” He also appeared in “All the President’s Men” and “Scarface.” He’s done the TV rounds, too, in “Louie” and “The Good Wife” and “Law & Order: CI.”
Shining a light on the ‘Invisible Man’
Three pages into Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man,” the nameless title character describes how he is stealing electricity from the Monopolated Light & Power Company. He tells of his home, a hole beneath the ground, and of how bright it is as a result of this theft: “I doubt if there is a brighter spot in all New York than this hole of mine, and I do not exclude Broadway.” He has wired the entire ceiling, covering it with 1,369 lights. It’s like practical pointillism.
The production of “Invisible Man,” an adaptation of the novel that’s coming to Studio Theatre from the Court Theatre in Chicago, where it premiered last season, cuts the number of bulbs in the hole by half. But the 650 light bulbs that make up the centerpiece of the set still floods the place with light — and drained the entire budget of the lighting designer, Mary Louise Geiger.
The bulbs dangle from varying lengths of cable to create an undulating ceiling — a bunch of incandescent bulbs doing the wave.
“The light bulb ceiling is such a fixture of the show,” said Adrian Rooney, master electrician. “It’s like the yellow brick road for ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ ” To create the illusion of randomness in the lighting, Rooney and his crew wired the bulbs in 12 separate spirals. The dozen groups of bulbs can flicker on and off in an organized way, even as they appear to be operating chaotically.
“It’s designed to feel oppressive,” said Troy Hourie, the set designer who was also with the show in Chicago. “To make the Invisible Man feel like there’s a lot on top of him. That [ceiling] unit flies up and down to tell us when we’re definitely inside the hole or not. . . . It breathes back and forth from large to small.”
The hole has an Anne-Frank-in-the-annex feel, which is to say, it is simultaneously a prison and a haven. “When all those lights are on, it’s so warm,” Hourie said. “The quality of light in that space — it does feel safe.”
Although Geiger had to go for broke to score enough bulbs for the set, Rooney managed to get the mile and a half of cable required from the Chicago crew by bringing back the barter system. “We just paid for shipping and sent them two cases of local D.C. beer.”
Sept. 5 - Oct. 14, 1501 14th St. NW, www.studiotheatre.org, 202-332-3300
‘Taking Steps’ at Constellation
The Constellation Theatre Company’s founding artistic director, Allison Arkell Stockman, is directing the theater’s upcoming production of “Taking Steps.” The only thing about the British comedy is that technically speaking, the set has no steps.
Set in a three-level Victorian home compressed onto one plane, “Taking Steps” requires actors to mime scaling nonexistent staircases. “It’s an architecturally driven comedy,” Stockman said. “I think it also represents, on a larger level, that our perspective is only one small piece of what’s happening in the larger world.”
“It’s really rare to have comedies in the round,” Stockman explained. “You really want to control the audience’s focus, and in the round everybody has a different perspective.”
Stockman said the six-person cast is Constellation’s smallest ensemble to date. “It was definitely, in part, because of the budget,” she said. “I also think that we were making this decision in the middle of ‘Metamorphoses’ last spring. And after that swimming pool, I think we were all very excited to do something simpler.”
“Taking Steps” wound up being far more complicated than Stockman anticipated, partly because of the clever choreography to create the impression of movement up and down the stairs that aren’t there and partly because the plot is this scrambled British farce of a thing that I will not even try to explain to you. There is at least one case of mistaken identity and also at least one ghost.
“It’s the timing and the structure,” Stockman said of the show’s biggest challenges. “And trying to stage it in a way that is believable and funny, and plays to all sides of the audience.”
Sept. 6 - Oct. 7, at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW, www.constellationtheatre.org, 202-204-7741