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Avon Calling: Kahn & Co. to Play In the Bard's Town

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page C01

The Shakespeare Theatre is headed for where it all began. The company announced yesterday that for the first time it has been invited to stage a production at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Michael Kahn, the Shakespeare's longtime artistic director, said the theater had been tapped to present the comedy "Love's Labor's Lost" as part of an RSC festival featuring troupes from around the world performing Shakespeare's entire canon of plays. The Washington company will perform Aug. 17-27, 2006, or thereabouts in the Swan Theatre, a three-tiered, 432-seat space modeled on an Elizabethan playhouse.

Patrick Page will play Iago when the Shakespeare Theatre opens its 2005-06 season with "Othello." (Richard Termine -- Shakespeare Theatre)

"We're very honored and excited about going, and I'm particularly excited about playing the Swan," Kahn said. Much of the American cast will be drawn from the pool of Washington talent on which Kahn traditionally relies.

It's rare for an American classical company to present Shakespeare to an audience in Britain, and not merely because the British are a bit proprietary about the work of their native son. Exporting a large cast and crew is an expensive proposition. In this case, however, officials at the Shakespeare say the company will incur only transportation expenses. The RSC will absorb most production costs and keep the box office receipts in exchange.

The Stratford visit is another manifestation of the Shakespeare's growing appetite for taking its work on the road. In 2003 the company traveled to Greece, where it performed its version of Sophocles' "The Oedipus Plays" at the Athens Festival in an amphitheater on the Acropolis. Last fall a revamped "Five by Tenn," the evening of Tennessee Williams one-acts that Kahn had staged at the Kennedy Center a few months before, was mounted by the Manhattan Theater Club.

"Love's Labor's Lost" will play 14 or so performances in Stratford after running at the Shakespeare's theater on Seventh Street NW. The production will be the final offering of the Shakespeare's 2005-06 season, a lineup unveiled by Kahn yesterday at a news conference at the theater.

The season will begin with Kahn's staging of "Othello," a production that on the surface sounds a bit more conventional than the company's 1997 go-round with the play. That race-reversing production, directed by Jude Kelly, featured Patrick Stewart as Othello and Ron Canada as Iago. This time, Iago will be played by Patrick Page, who starred this season opposite Kelly McGillis in the Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Colleen Delany -- who appeared in "Pericles" and "Lorenzaccio" at the Shakespeare -- has been cast as Desdemona. An Othello has yet to be named.

"The Comedy of Errors" will follow, to be directed by Douglas C. Wager, former artistic director of Arena Stage. Then comes Stephen Wadsworth's adaptation of Moliere's "Don Juan," to be directed by Wadsworth and featuring Cameron Folmar, who made a splash here in the playlet "And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens" in "Five by Tenn."

After Moliere, Aeschylus takes up residence, in what Kahn describes as a Washington premiere of "The Persians." Ethan McSweeny will direct. "It's the oldest extant play in the world," Kahn said, "and it's about war and victory as seen from the point of view of the defeated." While he admired McSweeny's staging of the play in New York, Kahn explained that he had additional reasons for wanting to do it here. After all, he said, "it's about national hubris."

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