The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Michael Kahn is stepping down as the Juilliard School's director of drama to devote more time to getting his troupe's new 776-seat theater up and running in the Harman Center for the Arts. Scheduled to open in September 2007, the center also includes the existing Lansburgh Theatre around the corner at Seventh and E streets NW.
Kahn decided to concentrate on the Harman opening, he says, "because that's something that I want, eventually -- to move this theater into a national classical theater. And that would require a good deal more of my time."
He has taught at Juilliard since 1968 and run the drama division since 1992. After this academic year he will assume the lofty titles of master teacher of acting and director emeritus, focusing only on third-year students. His "teaching hunger will be satisfied," he says, also by continued work at the Shakespeare's Academy for Classical Acting MFA program.
The list of actors Kahn has helped train includes Val Kilmer, Laura Linney, Frances Conroy, Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone, Christine Baranski, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Bradley Whitford and on and on.
"I just have generations of actors that have worked with me," Kahn says. Many Juilliard grads have performed for him at the Shakespeare, among them Daniel Breaker, about to open in "The Comedy of Errors."
Kahn's new schedule will require him to be in New York only on Mondays and half of Tuesdays, to see four student productions a year instead of 22 and to attend four faculty meetings instead of 18 or 20. "And I won't feel guilty if I miss something, which I was beginning to feel. And anyway," he says of the change, "it's the right time."
The twisted killer in "Misterman," by Irish dramatist Enda Walsh, puts on a pious and childlike demeanor. It takes a good portion of the one-act play's 45 minutes for audiences to grasp that Thomas Magill is one sick puppy.
Solas Nua, a fledgling troupe devoted to contemporary Irish culture, is presenting "Misterman" through Nov. 20 at the D.C. Arts Center in Adams Morgan. It produced Walsh's "Disco Pigs" last season and just held a mini Irish film festival at Landmark's E Street Cinemas.
Dan Brick, who plays all the characters in "Misterman," shaped his portrayal of the murderer Thomas through "the way other characters refer to him as 'boy.' . . . They seem to talk down to him or seem to see him as a child," he says.
Brick and Artistic Director Linda Murray want audiences to see only gradually that the townsfolk's condescending behavior reflects Thomas's own delusions. "We played those characters over the top to make Thomas look more grounded," Brick says. "Then you realize later in the play that perhaps it's not the other people -- perhaps it's Thomas. . . . That's why they come across so unhinged."
Murray, a Dubliner trained in theater, dance and arts criticism, came here two years ago. She was Brick's acting coach for "Rum & Vodka," a solo piece by another Irishman, Conor McPherson, which Brick performed with Scena Theatre. The two became associates -- and a couple.
"We're trying to represent a very different notion of Ireland from the one that perhaps a lot of Irish Americans hold dear to their hearts -- the rolling green hills . . . a very rural, traditional country," Murray says. "The reality is that Ireland is the technological center of Europe. . . . You can't hold any one country or culture in time, and part of Solas Nua's mission is to look at the changing landscape of Ireland."
One Star, Two Spots
Suzanne Richard has shuttled busily between rehearsals for a pair of wildly different shows in recent weeks. At Ford's Theatre, she's playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in "A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas," which opens Nov. 16. At her own Open Circle Theatre, she has just finished directing "Low Level Panic" by British writer Clare McIntyre. It opened yesterday at 1409 Playbill Cafe and will run through Nov. 29.
In "A Christmas Carol," Richard makes a flying entrance from on high. "I'm really excited about that part. Is that silly?" she asks rhetorically.
At Open Circle, she's had to get down and dirty. "Low Level Panic" examines the effects of rampant pornography on women's images of themselves and on the crime of sexual assault.
Richard founded Open Circle, which last season produced a well-received revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar," to commingle disabled and regularly abled actors in "colorblind" ways. A diminutive four feet tall, Richard herself has osteogenesis imperfecta, a hereditary disorder of the connective tissue, and uses crutches. She cast a disabled actress to play one of the three women in "Low Level Panic" and found the play adapted well to her conceit.
"I've long been interested in looking at women with disabilities and how society views them sexually and how they view themselves sexually," Richard says. "And [the play] works very well. I didn't think we'd have to change any of the words, and we didn't," although some British slang was Americanized.
She hopes it will be a kind of revelation. "I don't think people think of women with disabilities as having any similar sexuality" to their own, says Richard. "They assume that there either just isn't any, or it's all completely fantasy-based, or . . . in a fetish magazine somewhere."
"I think it's important for people to realize it's just the same old regular sexual experience that you're having."
* African Continuum Theatre Company has received a $50,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to expand its Fresh Flavas program of new works over two years. ACTCo premieres two plays this week, "Kingdom" by David Emerson Toney and "Draft Day" by Marvin McAllister. The former runs tomorrow through Dec. 10 and the latter Thursday through Dec. 11 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Call 202-399-7993 or visit www.africancontinuumtheatre.com.
* Ford's Theatre is seeking a 10-to-13-year-old African American boy who sings well to play Gabriel in the musical "Shenandoah." Rehearsals begin Feb. 7 and the show will run from March 17-May 21. Call 202-638-2941 or e-mail Associate Producer Mark Ramont at email@example.com.