Theater: Name change for Washington Shakespeare Company

Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly described the Albert Camus work behind the troupe’s production of “Les Justes.” The production next year will be a new translation and adaptation of a Camus play, not a play based on a Camus novel. This version has been updated.


Dan Kremer as Julius Caesar, Kryztov Lindquist as the Soothsayer and the cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2008 production of “Julius Caesar.” (Carol Rosegg)
August 16, 2011

The waning days of summer may offer the perfect pause for pondering one’s image.

Ford’s Theatre recently unveiled a new logo, a brick-red profile of Abraham Lincoln. And the Arlington-based Washington Shakespeare Com­pany — WSC for short — has changed its name to . . . WSC Avant Bard.

The low-budget troupe, heading into its 22nd season, has always taken an experimental route with Shakespeare’s plays and other classics. Now that it’s comfortably ensconced in the Artisphere in Rosslyn, Artistic Director Christopher Henley and his cohorts have moved to update the company’s name.

Board members, theatergoers and Arlington County’s Cultural Affairs Division, which runs the Artisphere, have long urged Henley to do something about the name. After all, the company doesn’t even perform in Washington, so why Washington Shakespeare Company? And then there’s the constant confusion with the deep-pocketed, more traditional Shakespeare Theatre Company in downtown Washington.

“There’s always been this constant drib-drab of people either questioning the name . . . pointing out how it isn’t a particularly good fit,” Henley explains.

Henley says they’re keeping the old WSC initials, so people don’t think the company fell off the map.

●WSC Avant Bard is opening its 22nd season with Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” (Aug. 25-Sept. 25) staged by Jose Carrasquillo.

●Their Shakespeare will be “The Mistorical Hystery of Henry (I)V” (Nov. 2-Dec. 4), adapted and directed by Tom Mallan. It will be a one-evening take on “Henry IV, Parts I and II.”

●“Les Justes” (Feb. 9-March 11) will be a new translation and adaptation of Albert Camus’ play about politics and violence, adapted and staged by Rahaleh ­Nassri.

●The company’s spring rep will include Euripides’ “The Bacchae” (May 10-July 1), staged by Steven Scott Mazzola, and Sam Shep­ard’s early play “The Tooth of Crime” (May 17-July 1), directed by Kathleen Akerley.

Great Caesar’s ghost

It’s no toga party for the performers reprising their 2008 roles as Cassius, Brutus and the title character in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Free for All remount of “Julius Caesar.” The clash of ideals and ambitions, ending in death, makes the experience more gut-wrenching than riotous, they say.

“Julius Caesar” opens Thursday at Sidney Harman Hall and runs through Sept. 4.

“When you get inside that skin, you’re not having fun,” says Tom Hammond, who plays Brutus, the idealist who justifies killing Caesar to save the Roman republic. “He loses everything because of the decision he makes, and then he loses his own life. So that is a dark place to go,” the actor says.

“Tragedies are always hard, because they’re obviously taking you on a pretty intense journey,” says Scott Parkinson, who, as Cassius, pulls Brutus into the assassination plot. During the 2008 production, Parkinson says, people came to him after the show and said, “You were such a good villain!” Not what an actor wants to hear about trying to humanize his character. This time he’s digging deeper for “places where an audience might be able to connect with Cassius.”

“As Caesar, I don’t have to deal with the aftermath in the same way that these two characters do, and I delight in it,” jokes Dan Kremer. While Cassius and Brutus struggle with the repercussions of their actions, Kremer comes back as Caesar’s ghost and haunts them. “I come back to deal with them in very real ways,” Kremer says. “The spirit of Caesar never really leaves these two characters.”

Maryland Ensemble’s lineup

Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick will open its new season with Christopher Durang’s “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them” (Sept. 8-Oct. 2), directed by Gene Fouche. The season will continue with: David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” (Oct. 27-Nov. 20), directed by Peter Wray; Jeff Goode’s “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” (Dec. 8-Jan. 1), directed by Tim Seltzer; Deborah Zoe Laufer’s “End Days” (Feb. 2-26) staged by Artistic Director Tad Janes; Sophocles’ “Antigone” (March 22-April 15), adapted by Reiner Prochaska and staged by Julie Herber; and the company-created show “The All New Grand Ole Hee Haw Hootenanny Hoe Down Jamboree” (May 10-June 9). www.marylandensemble.org.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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