The 1999-2000 season is starting off with a bang--Ted van Griethuysen starring as "King Lear" at the Shakespeare Theatre and Arena Stage's production of Paula Vogel's provocative new play "Hot 'n' Throbbing," as well as Studio Theatre's East Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard's "Indian Ink." And then there's Woolly Mammoth's revival of one of its biggest hits, "The Dead Monkey," with Sarah Marshall reprising one of her maddest roles.
Also being resurrected in what one hopes and presumes will be ghoulish, ghastly glory is Signature Theatre's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," directed by Eric D. Schaeffer. This was the first Stephen Sondheim musical Signature ever did, and it launched Schaeffer's career as one of the country's finest interpreters of Sondheim. The role of Sweeney will be played by the African American actor Norm Lewis, last seen on Broadway in "Side Show." Schaeffer has tapped the 1991 production's Mrs. Lovett, Donna Migliaccio, to reclaim the role that brought her a Helen Hayes Award.
After the headiness of the September openings, October looks to settle down a bit. The month starts with productions of three classics. Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," presently proving on Broadway that it can still pull in audiences 50 years after its debut, will be at the Olney Theatre Center. Washington Jewish Theatre will present one of the earliest critiques of capitalism's automatizing, numbing effects on society, Elmer Rice's "The Adding Machine." And at Arena, comedy master Douglas C. Wager will turn his considerable talents to "The Royal Family," a play that sends up the Barrymore clan, with the role based on John Barrymore being played by the inspired J. Fred Shiffman (winner of this year's Helen Hayes Award for best supporting actor).
A classic of even richer vintage, Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac," will be offered by Le Neon in Arlington.
For lovers of period agitprop, American Century Theater will produce "The Cradle Will Rock," originally staged in the late '30s by the 22-year-old Orson Welles at the Mercury Theatre.
The month could end with either a bang or a whimper, as Joe Banno tackles "Hamlet" at the Elizabethan Stage at the Folger. Banno did a brilliant "Romeo and Juliet" a couple of seasons ago, setting the play in a parochial school. Most recently, he stumbled and fell over the difficulties of "Troilus and Cressida." He remains undauntedly experimental, planning to direct "Hamlet" with four actors playing the lead role. Three of them will be women. Whatever happens, the production would define the category should anyone decide to give a Most Challenging Award.
November opens with the National Folk Theatre of Ireland in residence for two weeks at Ford's. This will be the culmination of a series of Irish shows this autumn, as the previous offering at Ford's is "A Couple of Blaguards," by Frank and Malachy McCourt. (The Kennedy Center is opening its season with the 1916 Irish family comedy "The Whiteheaded Boy," presented by the Barabbas Theatre of Dublin.)
The month also brings the local premiere of the latest Alan Ayckbourn play, "Communicating Doors," at Round House, directed by old Ayckbourn hand Nick Olcott. The Tony Award-winning "Side Man" will play the Kennedy Center. "Blue Heart," a pair of intriguing one-acts by the British writer Caryl Churchill ("Cloud 9"), opens at the Studio.
At month's end, the holiday shows will be brushed off and brought out: The umpteenth presentation of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's. The reappearance of the jolly "Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush" from Interact. "Peter Pan" at the Olney. A nondenominational offering will be Washington Jewish Theatre's "Vaudeville," ambitiously subtitled "Humor on the 20th Century American Stage."
Two plays by local black female writers will premiere in November and December: Caleen Sinette Jennings's "Inns and Outs" at the Source Theatre, and Oni Faida Lampley's "The Dark Kalamazoo" at Woolly Mammoth.
The year winds up with two big December musical events. Arena's Christmas gift to theatergoers is "Guys and Dolls," starring Maurice Hines. And fans of "Les Miserables" and "Miss Saigon" can flock to Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's latest, the imported London production of "Martin Guerre," which will play the Kennedy Center on its way to Broadway.