The parade of inspired drollery that is the Shakespeare Theatre's production of Ben Jonson's "The Silent Woman" (playing through March 9) couldn't march without Daniel Breaker and Murell Horton.
Breaker, a 22-year-old actor fresh out of the drama program at Juilliard (run by the theater's artistic director, Michael Kahn, who also staged this play) plays Truewit, a young man-about-town whose clever contrivances motivate the farcical tale of marital tomfoolery.
"I really think Truewit is the playwright," said Breaker in a phone call recently. ". . . I really thought he was much like Ben Jonson, almost the type of emcee or magician that sculpts this play as it goes along."
Breaker said he hooked into classical theater early on: "I remember reading 'Romeo and Juliet' in my English class sophomore year up in Illinois . . . We'd go around and read five lines at a time down the rows. I was the only one excited by it." He admits now, "Oh, I was a nerd, my goodness."
It was at Juilliard that Breaker said he developed his knack -- surprising in such a young actor -- for classical speech. And reviewers here have taken note. "It's extremely flattering to get those kind of compliments," he said, "but I think, in that I'm going into this business for the long haul, I try to really forget about that when I go to a next project . . . I'm glad to get a good review so my mom can be very proud of me."
Costume designer Horton described his whimsical, expansive, high-ruffed, low-cut, split-skirted ensembles as "a little bit of a Carnaby Street feeling [crossed] with 1610s London." Inspired by everything from comic books to children's theater to high fashion, he aimed to "take period shapes and make them feel a little more fantastical." Think Twiggy meets Nell Gwyn, with a dash of the designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
"When you hear that you're designing clothes for a set that's bright lime patent-leather green with a blue floor, you have to . . . pump up the scale of things a little bit and be really careful with the color," Horton said from the costume shop at the Shakespeare Theatre, where he was busy working on designs for the upcoming "Richard III."
There are about 25 costumes in "Silent Woman," but they seem more numerous. "There [is] just so much on stage, the detail in the clothes, that it just reads as more.
"We certainly had fun with it," said Horton. "You know you're enjoying a show when the actors laugh hysterically when you dress them."
Five by Cervantes Gala Hispanic Theatre will reach back to the early 17th century with its evening of five Interludes or entremeses by Miguel de Cervantes. The author of "Don Quixote" also wrote serious plays, but these Interludes, eight of which survive, are little farces, some in verse, that were used to keep audiences in their seats while the scenery was changed for the "big" plays -- or in case the big plays flopped.
Artistic Director Hugo Medrano has chosen five of the eight to create "Cervantes: Interludes" at the Warehouse Theatre (1021 Seventh St. NW) Thursday through March 16. He's trying to keep the pieces in the popular style of the period, "like a commedia dell'arte, where you have to really do body movement, physical expression in order to really re-create in some way the stereotype of popular characters . . . the jealous husband, the cuckold husband, the rebellious woman, prostitutes . . . comic and ordinary figures that the audience could relate to."
Each of the plays ends with a song, but Cervantes provided only the lyrics. Medrano guessed they were set to popular tunes of the day and commissioned composer Carlos Cesar Rodriguez to write the music. Rodriguez is also a solo pianist, a recording artist and Placido Domingo's rehearsal pianist at the Washington Opera.
"I tried to be very pure in the sense of keeping the text intact, the rhythm of the text," Rodriguez said. "What we had, basically, was the lyric, and as you read the lyric, you find a certain rhythm. When I read it over and over, I said, okay, it has this characteristic of this kind of song or this kind of dance."
He worked in 17th-century European song and dance traditions, such as sarabandes, sevillanas and pavanes, arranging them for voice, guitar, recorder and a little percussion so the actors could perform them. (Lourdes Elias of the Spanish Dance Theatre did the choreography.) "I decided to make it as simple as possible, just to keep that folk-like characteristic," Rodriguez said. In the original period, he noted, "people wanted to come and see it and enjoy it and get the tune and sing the tune afterwards."
* African Continuum Theatre Company will present "Wedding Dance" by Dominic A. Taylor at the Kennedy Center's AFI Theater Feb. 20-March 9. It's described as a "boy-meets-girl fantasy" with gospel music, hip-hop and fairy tales. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
* Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has commissioned plays from up-and-comers Angus MacLachlan ("The Dead Eye Boy") and Craig Wright ("The Pavilion"). With a $100,000 grant from A.S.K. Theater Projects, a Los Angeles organization that nurtures new playwrights, Woolly will develop and produce the plays over the next three seasons. MacLachlan's "The Radiant Abyss" and Wright's "Grace" address issues of morality and faith.
* Schedule change at Round House: The theater's spring show (April 2-28) will be "Speaking in Tongues" by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell. It involves mysteries and misunderstandings that link several characters' lives. (The 2001 film version was titled "Lantana.") "Tongues" will replace Washington area playwright Heather McDonald's new work, "When Grace Comes In." According to Round House staffers, Artistic Director Jerry Whiddon put the play on hold when a suitable guest director couldn't be scheduled.