Peter Marks's theater picks for the spring

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010


"Orestes, a Tragic Romp" The inventive Aaron Posner, who directed the Folger Theatre's sharp, modern "Measure for Measure" and its illusion-infused "Macbeth," returns to Folger to take on the Greeks. Here he teams up with playwright Anne Washburn ("The Internationalist") and actors Jay Sullivan and Holly Twyford in a new adaptation of Euripides' account of the aftermath of the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes and his sister, Electra. The original music for the chorus is by James Sugg. Through March 7.


2 -- "Henry V"/"Richard II" As if one towering figure from the history plays were not enough, Michael Hayden plays two in this ambitious twinning of works that the Shakespeare Theatre Company is calling "The Leadership Repertory." Whether you prefer the tragic stylings of Richard, who likes to tell sad stories of the death of kings, or the action-figure charisma of Henry, who rallies his men so they'll go once more unto the breach, this theatrical pairing will make for some intriguing compare-and-contrast debates. With Hayden bearing the weight of both crowns, "Henry V" is directed by David Muse; "Richard II," by Michael Kahn. Through April 11.

9 -- "Sweeney Todd" He's baaaa-ack. Yup, the vengeful barber who, in the inimitable words and music of Stephen Sondheim, "shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again," returns to familiar terrain: the confines of Signature Theatre. On the heels of Tim Burton's blood-soaked movie version, Signature's Eric Schaeffer brings to his Arlington County stage (for the third time) one of Sondheim's wittiest and most harmoniously composed musicals. Playing the spotlight roles of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, the twisted meat-pie maven who seems to have a soft spot for homicidal maniacs, are Edward Gero and Sherri L. Edelen. Through April 4.

17 -- "Bus Stop" A blizzard. A diner. A gallery of American types, looking for love. The ingredients that put you in mind of classic American drama are mixed and stirred with heart-tugging authority by William Inge in this seriocomedy of the '50s, the play that proved to be his most popular. (Among his others: "Come Back, Little Sheba" and "Picnic.") Inge was unlucky enough to have come along at the time of the towering Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and his works tend to be viewed, unfairly, through the prism of their achievements. Fingers crossed for New York actor and director Austin Pendleton -- and the hope he stages a revival for Olney Theatre Center that shows Inge was more than a conjurer of period melodrama. Through March 14.

23 -- "In the Heights" It can take eons for touring versions of Tony-winning musicals to make it down Interstate 95, so we have to count ourselves fortunate that the wait for "In the Heights," a cheery celebration of life on the Spanish-flavored streets of Upper Manhattan, has been less than two years. The show, with an infectious score by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, will have its Washington area debut at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. It may not be great art -- the story is as transparent as a telenovela -- but it does have an exhilarating heart, thanks to Miranda's songs, Thomas Kail's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's sizzling choreography. Through March 7.


5 -- "The Light in the Piazza" Adam Guettel's lush melodies are sprayed like wisps of gentle perfume over the rather slender tale of a lovelorn older woman and her emotionally childlike daughter who tour Italy in the early 1950s. The musical, an adaptation by librettist Craig Lucas of a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, was popular after it debuted at Lincoln Center Theater in 2005. Arena Stage puts its own spin on the show, with Molly Smith in the director's chair. The cast features Hollis Resnik as the protective mother and Margaret Anne Florence as her dewy, headstrong daughter. Pivotal, too, is Nicholas Rodriguez, as a handsome Florentine who dazzles the daughter but stiffens the back of a mother unsure whether she's resisting the match out of affection for her child or bitterness over her own circumstances. Through April 11.

6 -- "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?" Spirited monologuist Josh Kornbluth ("Red Diaper Baby") returns to Washington, this time in the company of an exhibition of Warhol silkscreens. With the prints -- "Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century" -- on display in an adjacent gallery of the D.C. Jewish Community Center, Kornbluth inaugurates this one-man show at Theater J in an effort to elucidate his feelings about Warhol's portraits of, among others, Albert Einstein, Golda Meir and the Marx brothers. The intriguing discourse, under the direction of David Dower, is guaranteed to have a spotlight for longer than 15 minutes. Through March 21.

12 -- "Nights at the Opera: 'Golden Age' " In plays such as "The Lisbon Traviata" and "Master Class," playwright and librettist Terrence McNally has used his love of opera as a rich vein for theater. He has written yet another in this ongoing series, set backstage in 1835 in a Parisian opera house at the premiere of Bellini's "I Puritani." Wouldn't you know: The Kennedy Center has corralled all three opera plays for an event that looks forward and back at the dramatist's relationship to the form. "Golden Age," with Jeffrey Carlson and Marc Kudisch, is directed by Austin Pendleton; "Lisbon Traviata" follows, in a staging by Christopher Ashley; and then comes "Master Class," directed by Stephen Wadsworth, with Tyne Daly as Maria Callas. The festival runs through April 18.

15 -- "Clybourne Park" Satirist Bruce Norris was last represented at Woolly Mammoth by the caustic "The Unmentionables," a play set in Africa that casts a jaundiced eye on the United States' attempts culturally and financially to co-opt every being on the planet. Woolly will stage his latest play, a Chicago-set comedy that applies a modern twist to the issues of race and housing and aspirations for a better life that had been thrust to the fore in Lorraine Hansberry's breakout drama, "A Raisin in the Sun." Howard Shalwitz, the company's artistic director, shepherds the production and a cast that includes Kimberly Gilbert, Mitchell Hebert, Dawn Ursula and Cody Nickell. Through April 11.

24 -- "reasons to be pretty" In "The Shape of Things," playwright Neil Labute wrote about a man who re-sculpts himself for love. In "Fat Pig," he made the obsession with thinness the axis of sharp social comedy. And in this, his third body-image satire, he explores the highly charged repercussions when a man compares the looks of one woman to another. David Muse, who has deftly guided contemporary plays for the company as diverse as Bryony Lavery's "Frozen" and David Harrower's "Blackbird," tackles this sensitive topic with the four young actors playing the story's two couples: Margot White, Ryan Artzberger, Thom Miller and Teresa Stephenson. Through May 2.


6 -- "The Liar" The dexterous David Ives has been dishing out laughs dim sum-style for years in evenings of one-act plays ("All in the Timing," "Mere Mortals") and by applying his skills at adaptation to old musicals in need of tuneups. Sensing a good fit, the Shakespeare Theatre Company recruited the playwright for a revamping of Pierre Corneille's 17th-century comedy, "The Liar." The first result of a five-year program in which the classical troupe is matching works requiring makeovers with contemporary playwrights, "The Liar" revolves, of course, around a whopper of a lie. The cast, directed Michael Kahn, includes delectable farceurs David Sabin, Christian Conn, Miriam Silverman, Aubrey Deeker and Colleen Delany. Through May 23.

9 -- "Kafka's Metamorphosis" Franz Kafka goes kinetic as choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili and director Derek Goldman reassemble the surrealist story of a man who wakes up to find himself transformed into a dung beetle in the movement-dominated storytelling style of Synetic Theater. Goldman, who heads Georgetown University's performance studies program, directs this new adaptation, which weaves the novelist's biography into the tale. Goldman's visual dynamics mesh well with the troupe's, as he demonstrated in a sprightly, literate adaptation for the company of "Lysistrata." With John Milosich in the central role of Gregor (and Clark Young portraying Gregor's brain), the expectation is that Kafka's nightmare tale will be strong in word and dance. Through May 22.

21 -- "Hamlet" Yes, him again. The Melancholy One is once more on the boards, this time on Capitol Hill in a Folger Theatre production directed by Joseph Haj, producing artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Graham Hamilton, who played the ardent young hero of Folger's 2005 staging of "Romeo and Juliet," makes the dramatic leap from Verona to Elsinore. The acting squad also features Deborah Hazlett as Gertrude, David Whalen as Claudius, Lindsey Wochley as Ophelia and Stephen Patrick Martin as Polonius. Through June 6.


5 -- "American Buffalo" You want (expletive) Mamet? Studio Theatre's got (expletive) Mamet. And not only that, but classic (expletive) Mamet. As her parting directorial effort as head of the company, artistic director Joy Zinoman stages this gritty play -- written just about the time she founded Studio -- about a down-and-out quartet of con artists who plot the theft of a coin collection. Zinoman's love for muscular texts makes Mamet a natural valedictory project. The participation of one of her touchstone actors, Edward Gero, no doubt makes it bittersweet, too.

18 -- "Sycamore Trees" The suburbs of composer Ricky Ian Gordon's youth are the backdrop for this musical, having its world premiere at Signature Theatre, which sheds light on an American family and the doings in a tract house pulsating with lyrical intensity. Gordon's frequent collaborator, Tina Landau, directs the show, the latest fruit of Signature's American Musical Voices project, underwritten by the Shen Family Foundation. True to the project's name, a vocally resplendent cast heads to Arlington, led by Judy Kuhn, Marc Kudisch, Jessica Molaskey and Diane Sutherland. Through June 20.

28 -- "R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe" You wouldn't necessarily put this 20th-century thinker -- inventor of, among other things, the geodesic dome -- on the short list of natural characters for the stage. That is part of the reason this Arena Stage entry, written and directed by D.W. Jacobs, tugs at the imagination. How would you bottle for dramatic purposes the workings of such a restless spirit? Another tug comes courtesy of Rick Foucheux, the fine Washington actor portraying Fuller. Based on Fuller's journals, the one-man play promises to be at the very least a vigorous encounter with the world of ideas. Through July 4.


1 -- "Thurgood" Laurence Fishburne, star of screen, stage and TV crime procedurals, adopts the imposing countenance of the first African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court for this bioplay by George Stevens Jr. The wit and wisdom of Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights proponent who spent 24 years on the court, proves better than average fodder for the one-man treatment on the stage; two years ago, the show had a successful Broadway stay. Fishburne returns to the role for this Kennedy Center engagement, and the melding of the actor's and jurist's sensibilities portends another stirring hour and a half of history. Through June 20.

3 -- "Othello" Roger Payano is the Moor and Salma Shaw plays Desdemona for Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili as Synetic Theater continues its often-mesmerizing gavotte through the pages of Shakepeare. Through its wordless stagings of tragedies such as "Hamlet" and comedies such as "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the company has patented an alternative language for the Bard, in acrobatic leaps and waltz tempos. In the tale of the feeding of Othello's jealousy by Iago, who has to be Shakespeare's most calculating villain, director Paata and choreographer Irina have another great text around which to wrap the troupe's seductive arms and legs. Through July 3.

16 -- "Lypsinka in Legends!" This title has John Epperson written all over it, and if you don't know who Epperson is -- well, you need to get with the program, and fast. His temperamental alter ego, Lypsinka, a star who'd be nothing without the recorded voices of the great women of stage and screen who came before her, will it seems on this occasion conjure the, er, legendary play by James Kirkwood Jr., "Legends." That's the one in which Mary Martin and Carol Channing toured during the mid-1980s and resulted in Kirkwood's hilarious memoir, "Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing." Two words: Can't wait. At Studio Theatre through July 4.

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