Backstage: Round House Theatre Outlines Its Next Chapter

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Round House Theatre's producing artistic director, Blake Robison (who took over in 2005), has re-upped through 2015.

In announcing the company's next season, Robison says Round House will continue with offerings that are roughly half adaptations of novels and half contemporary plays. This approach, he says, has given Round House a "calling card of our own."

The 2009-10 season will open with the world premiere of a Round House-commissioned adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

Robison has also announced that Forum Theatre will be in residence at Round House's Silver Spring space for two seasons, starting in the fall, when Forum will do "Angels in America."

Resurrecting 'Dead'

In 2001, Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, then a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was slogging through a drawer of bad plays by Twain in an archive at the University of California at Berkeley. Near the end of the pile, she found "Is He Dead?," about a starving artist in 1840s Paris. The work's hero is real-life master Jean-Fran├žois Millet, who, in the play, fakes his death and poses as his grieving twin sister in hopes his canvases will finally sell.

"I realized that this was familiar to me from Twain's exploration of it in a rather leaden and boring short story, and I could immediately see the way this play could work beautifully onstage," says Fishkin. It struck her as "a cross between 'Tootsie' and 'Some Like It Hot,' with some of the zaniness of the Marx Brothers thrown into the mix."

The script was adapted by playwright David Ives, mounted to positive reviews on Broadway, and is onstage at Olney Theatre Center through Sunday, directed by Halo Wines.

Twain was living in Vienna in the late 1890s when he adapted his story for the stage. He was mourning the death of his daughter and emerging from bankruptcy, explains Fishkin, now a professor at Stanford.

"He was writing out of sheer joy. He literally starts this play the week that he learns he has come out of bankruptcy, and he celebrates by writing a wild, over-the-top farce about a group of young friends who defeat . . . an evil creditor," Fishkin says. "Here he figured out how to take the dialogue that was so good in his fiction and to put it onstage."

Follow Spot

The Bethesda Theatre has canceled the showbiz-spoofing revue "Forbidden Broadway," which was to run March 12 through April 5 with a New York cast. (The show's 27-year off-Broadway run ended Sunday.) Lindsay Palmer, director of sales and marketing at the Bethesda Theatre, says the production might be re-booked for the fall, so the theater is calling the cancellation a "postponement." Palmer says tickets were selling "at a good pace" but that she and Executive Director Ray Cullom were "shocked" at the lack of advance media coverage and so decided to scrub the show for now. Next at the Bethesda is "Menopause the Musical," April 14 to May 10.

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