All D.C. Will Be a Stage for Shakespeare

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006

Let the Bardolatry begin.

In the most extravagant demonstration of the area's devotion to William Shakespeare -- in a theater town with three standing companies devoted to the playwright -- Washington next year will stage a six-month, citywide immersion in theatrical, ballet, film, operatic, orchestral, choral and jazz adaptations of the canon.

"Shakespeare in Washington" will kick off Jan. 5 -- a day you might know as Twelfth Night -- and continue through June 2007 with a dizzying number of entries by 40 organizations, from renowned classical companies to local groups for disabled performers. One of the city's most wide-ranging explorations of a playwright ever, the festival will be in theaters, museums and movie houses across the region, and the list of participating institutions is expected to grow.

The Kennedy Center -- whose president, Michael M. Kaiser, hatched the idea of the festival with Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company -- unveiled the event's full range of offerings yesterday. If all goes as planned, it will be one of the more comprehensive assessments across one city's institutions of the enduring impact of Shakespeare's work.

"It's sort of historic," said Kahn, who will direct "Hamlet" with Jeffrey Carlson, star of last year's "Lorenzaccio," and a "Richard III" with Geraint Wyn Davies, who played Cyrano to acclaim for Kahn in 2004.

"I don't know of any other city that has taken six months and devoted them to an author in such an interesting way," said Kahn, who serves as the festival's curator while the Kennedy Center is heading an effort to market the event beyond the capital.

As a focal point of so much Shakespeare scholarship -- the Folger Shakespeare Library is home, for example, to copies of the First Folio edition of the Bard's collected plays -- Washington is, in a sense, merely lassoing resources already here in the staging of such an ambitious festival. The breadth of participation includes such Washington pillars as the Library of Congress and the Phillips Collection, and world-class visitors like the Royal Shakespeare Company and Kirov Ballet.

At least 16 full theatrical productions of Shakespeare are in the works, from the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Coriolanus," starring Janet Suzman and William Houston, to a multimedia adaptation of "The Tempest" by an experimental Montreal troupe, 4D Art, in which flesh-and-blood actors perform alongside virtual ones.

The festival will include such likely suspects as Folger Theatre and Washington Shakespeare Company serving up two plays each. Kahn's theater also will present a "Titus Andronicus" directed by Gale Edwards, and Folger plans a "King Lear" produced with the Classical Theater of Harlem, as well as a version of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," retitled "Lone Star Love, or the Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas." And Washington Shakespeare will offer a "Lear" of its own, directed by Kathleen Akerley.

Local companies known more for the drama of the 20th and 21st centuries than for the 15th and 16th also will participate. Musicals-centric Signature Theatre will stage a cabaret called "Singing Shakespeare," devoted to shows and show tunes based on Shakespearean plays. Studio Theatre, a home for cerebral drama by the likes of Samuel Beckett and Caryl Churchill, is offering Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," a comedy that promotes minor characters in "Hamlet" to star parts.

And irreverent Woolly Mammoth is participating with "She Stoops to Comedy," David Greenspan's gender-bending riff on all those comic Shakespearean plots in which women dress up as men. That is not to mention the reprise of Synetic Theatre's wordless take on the travails of the melancholy Dane, "Hamlet . . . the Rest Is Silence."

Theater might be an obvious component, but "Shakespeare in Washington" will explore the various artistic filters through which the work has been distilled. American Ballet Theater will bring "Othello," the Kirov will have "Romeo and Juliet" and New York City Ballet will dance Balanchine's "Midsummer Night's Dream." Shakespeare's "Dream" is also a springboard for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, which will play Felix Mendelssohn's version, while the National Symphony Orchestra offers up Dvorak's "Othello" overture and selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet."

"Macbeth," care of Verdi, is the Washington National Opera's entry, and Rossini's "Otello" comes thanks to the Washington Concert Opera.

In addition, Shakespeare as the accompaniment for popcorn and supersized sodas will be in the offing at the AFI Silver Theatre. The National Gallery of Art, meanwhile will screen a festival's worth of cinematic versions of "Othello," including a 1922 silent adaptation, Orson's Welles's 1952 version and "O," the 2001 adaptation directed by Tim Blake Nelson.

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