1997-98 Arts Preview

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The Year of Living Diversely
Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith as Stanley Sheinbaum, Los Angeles police commission chief.
Photo by Ken Friedman

By Lloyd Rose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 1997

To paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse on the subject of Christmas, the theater season is almost at our throats again. The question, as always, is: Which productions will we enjoy being shaken by, and which will be dull bullies? Here are some of the packages under the tree:

Diversity Lives at the Shakespeare Theatre, where Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard of "Star Trek: the Next Generation") plays a white Othello in an all-black society. This one will either be brilliant or a major embarrassment; there is no middle ground.

Emily Dickinson Lives at Round House Theatre, where the brilliant Tana Hicken will perform the one-woman show "The Belle of Amherst." Hicken would be worth watching even if she were reading the operating rules for the latest Windows program.

Diversity Diversifies at Woolly Mammoth, as Brian Freeman, who made outrageous comedy out of being black and gay with the group Pomo Afro Homos, launches his two-oppressed-social-groups show "Civil Sex."

Diversity With Attitude at the National, as the young dance genius Savion Glover performs in his and George C. Wolfe's "Bring In 'da Noise, Bring In 'da Funk," a confrontational look at the history of African American music and performance.

A Surprise Package at Arena Stage, an as-yet-untitled work about the presidency by brilliant chameleon/journalist Anna Deavere Smith ("Twilight, Los Angeles: 1992").

Flirting With Danger at Fraudulent Productions, which is staging "The Fall of the House of Usher," a story that has never been successfully adapted to any medium. The folks at Fraudulent run a tiny theater and they have no money, but they are unafraid.

Dancing With Danger at Arena, as Douglas C. Wager, whose "Long Day's Journey Into Night" was a stunner, tackles yet another, admittedly milder, O'Neill, "A Touch of the Poet."

Dueling Vanyas at the Round House and Arena. First out of the gate is the Round House "Uncle Vanya," directed by Nick Olcott, who has previously distinguished himself in comedy; second is the Arena Stage version, directed by Zelda Fichandler, whose '80s production of another Chekhov play, "Three Sisters," was long on respect for the author and short on humor.

Sex and Blood at Le Neon, which is staging Oscar Wilde's "Salome," an account of the biblical story that he originally wrote in French, and that scandalized Victorian society with its necrophiliac final moment.

Sex and Teenagers at the Folger Shakespeare Library, as Joe Banno, who last season did a wild and witty production of Shakespeare's impossible-to-do "Cymbeline" for the Washington Shakespeare Company, directs "Romeo and Juliet." This is a play that never really works, but that's the kind that Banno thrives on.

Sex and Religion at (where else?) Woolly Mammoth, which is producing the late Dennis Potter's "Brimstone and Treacle," which caused an uproar when it was first staged in London because of its mixture of carnality and Christianity.

Forget Sex, Go for Power at the Studio Theatre, where Sarah Marshall will reprise her acclaimed '80s performance as a tyrannical schoolteacher in the social fable "Miss Margarida's Way."

No Sex Please, We're British Children at Olney, which is doing Sir James Barrie's "Peter Pan," a chaste classic that nonetheless has elements of yearning, loss and shame usually found only in adult dramas.

We're British but Nonetheless Fun at Interact Theatre, which comes up with a sequel to its popular "At the Old Bull & Bush" with "A Dickens of a Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush" at Arena's Old Vat Room.

We're British and Hilarious at Olney, which is presenting "Noises Off," Michael Frayn's remarkable farce, which at its height recalls the magical slapstick of silent films.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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