Concluding a two-year search for a new home, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company will move in October to 1401 Church St. NW for what is expected to be a three-to-five-year residency, according to the theater's directors.
The 110-seat facility has long housed the Studio Theatre, which is renovating a former automotive repair shop one block away at 14th and P streets NW for fall occupancy.
With the introduction of the Woolly Mammoth into the neighborhood, the 14th Street corridor can now lay claim to six theater companies, making it the Washington equivalent of Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York.
One of the city's most adventurous theater groups, the Woolly Mammoth plans a four-play season in its new quarters -- beginning in November with Mary Chase's 1944 comedy "Harvey." While calling the move "the most significant" in the Woolly Mammoth's history, Peter Jablow, president of the board of trustees, nonetheless described it as an interim step toward the theater's "long-term goal of acquiring a permanent home with a 250-seat capacity."
From 1980 until the fall of 1986, the Woolly Mammoth was housed downtown in the auditorium of the Church of the Epiphany at 1317 G St. NW, but the cramped quarters rapidly proved insufficient for the company's needs. Sets had to be dismantled on nonperformance days and the difficulties of scheduling a season around church activities prompted the group to look for space of its own.
This past season, the Woolly Mammoth leased performing space on a short-term basis from the New Playwrights' Theatre and the Washington Project for the Arts, where its alternating double bill of "Savage in Limbo" and "National Defense" is scheduled to run through Sept. 13.
"This is the first time that our entire operation -- rehearsal space, shops, administrative offices and performing space -- will be under one roof," said Linda Reinisch, Woolly Mammoth's managing director. "It's taken us seven years." Immediate plans call for increasing the theater's capacity to 130 seats. Constructing a second stage for laboratory work is "a definite long-range goal," she said.
In anticipation of expanded programming, the operating budget for the coming season will be $346,000 -- up approximately $115,000 from last season.
Under the artistic leadership of Howard Shalwitz, the Woolly Mammoth employs a core staff of 10 and is dedicated to the concept of a resident company of actors, directors and playwrights. From its inception, it has favored risky dramatic fare and has made a name for itself, even as it created controversy, with such works as "The Choir," "And Things That Go Bump in the Night" and "Christmas on Mars." It has twice won the Helen Hayes Award for outstanding new play -- in 1986 for Ralph Hunt's "Metamorphosis" and this year for T.J. Edwards' "N.Y. Mets."
Although "Harvey" -- a gentle comedy about an affable dreamer whose best friend is an invisible six-foot white rabbit -- would seem a tame choice, the Woolly Mammoth envisions "an off-beat production" and sees the classic as the taking-off point for a season charting the darkening of the American comic vision.
"Harvey" will be followed in February by Alan Bowne's "Sharon and Billy," a look at California family life in the 1950s. A two-play summer repertory of Harry Kondoleon's "The Vampires" and Wallace Shawn's stinging "Aunt Dan and Lemon" will complete the season.
In addition to the Woolly Mammoth and the new Studio Theatre, the Source Main Stage, Source's Warehouse Rep, Javarama and Arena's Living Stage are housed along 14th Street. Joy Zinoman, artistic director of the Studio, applauded the Woolly Mammoth's move yesterday as a further step in the revitalization of the area, adding she was "happy our former home will continue as a performing arts location."