The H Street Playhouse has new digs and a new name to go with them. When the theater opens shop at 2020 Shannon Pl. in March, it will be under a new moniker: Anacostia Playhouse.
Owner Adele Robey has been deliberating over the name change since announcing the relocation in July. Although contenders included a play on the catchy “2020” and “the Shannon Place Theater,” Robey decided the name needed to embrace the new geographic identity of the institution.
“We branded ourselves as H Street Playhouse because we were on H Street,” Robey said. “We want to define ourselves as part of the community where we are.”
It’s a choice that echoes the decision she and her late husband, Bruce, made in 2002 to christen their theater as the H Street Playhouse; at the time, H Street NE was such a dicey location, it didn’t even pop up as an option when people searched for directions online. “People would go to H Street Northwest and call us from the National Theatre saying, ‘Where are you?’ ” Robey recalled. “MapQuest, that many years ago, just wouldn’t believe anybody was going to Northeast.”
The Anacostia of 2012 is a far more vibrant, thriving community than H Street was 10 years ago, but Robey recognized that stigma — mostly concerning the inconvenience of crossing the river and worries about safety — remains.
“We thought about that in our conversations” about the name, she said. Although she sensed some people might be turned off by the mere mention of Anacostia, Robey said, the consensus was, “Well, that’s a shame if that’s what they do.”
On Tuesday, Robey signed a five-year lease with an option for a five-year renewal. Robey said she hopes to have open houses “as soon as it’s feasible, construction-wise.”
“If you do good work and that word gets around, and the people who work there . . . are excited about the place, they create a momentum that’s unstoppable,” she said. “That’s what we’re really excited about.”
Michael Benz, the Georgetown alum playing Hamlet in the Shakespeare’s Globe touring production at the Folger Theatre, did not expect ever to be Hamlet.
No offense to Shakespeare or anything. It’s just that Benz really hated him in high school.
“I found reading Shakespeare impossible in high school,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I really didn’t like it. I never thought I’d end up doing it. . . . I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand it. And, unfortunately, what happened was . . . because I didn’t get it, I started to resent it a bit. . . . It wasn’t until I got it up on its feet and said it out loud [that] I realized: They’re scripts and not books. It’s meant to be spoken.”
And in this particular performance, it’s meant to be spoken very, very quickly.
The Globe is enjoying its Washington debut at the Folger with what is pitched as a smarter-better-faster-stronger version of “Hamlet.” The 21 / 2-hour production has an eight-person cast and was designed with touring in mind.
“I wanted to do a fleet version,” said Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director. “I’d be surprised if somebody pointed and said ‘This is missing,’ because there’s very little that we don’t cover. And part of the joy is you move quicker. You’re a leaner operation.”
“There’s a quickness of thought,” Benz said. “I prefer it. I think, as Hamlet says to the players, [we speak] ‘trippingly on the tongue’ to keep it quick.”
The stint at the Folger comes just over three months into the “Hamlet” tour, which kicked off at the Globe, made the rounds in Europe and circled back to the Globe before heading Stateside.
Dromgoole and the folks at the Folger are hoping to collaborate again. “We’ve got massive respect for [the Folger’s] standing in the world of Shakespeare,” Dromgoole said.
The biggest perk of being in the Folger, however, is just that: being in the Folger. As in inside, period.
“They were in big fields with wind blasting in their faces,” Dromgoole said of the tour’s previous stops.
“We’ve had some proper, proper downpours,” Benz said. “It’s been epic.”
Through Sept. 22, 201 East Capitol St. SE, www.folger.edu, 202-544-7077.
It’s been a wet, hot American summer with too many reruns and not enough theater. Now that Washington stages are lighting up again, Backstage checked in with some artistic directors around town to see what shows they can’t wait to see.
Mary Resing, Active Cultures Theatre Company
“My passion, my obsession, is locally specific theater, so I’m really delighted that there’s two shows coming out that I think are very locally specific. The first is ‘The Hampton Years’ at Theater J, by Jacqueline Lawton. . . . It should be a wonderful, magical, emotionally stirring piece.” The second is “Good People” at Arena Stage, by “tried and true Southie” David Lindsay-Abaire. “His local culture and experience permeates all his work.”
Rachel Grossman, dog & pony dc
“I’m looking forward to catching the 5th Dentist’s production of Michael Merino’s new play ‘Hemispheric Dysfunctionalism & the Cortical Titanic.’ I saw his last two shows produced at the Capital Fringe Festival and, had tickets been available, would have see both a second time. . . . Merino’s work playfully romps through complex super-intellectual theories and principles.”
Ari Roth, Theater J
His first choice: The National Theatre of Scotland’s “Black Watch” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “I’m really glad they’re bringing it back. . . . From everything I’ve read, it’s a harrowing, thrilling, kinetic play about war, and a mind-blowing experience.”
Janet Stanford, Imagination Stage
“I am looking forward to Mary Zimmerman’s ‘Metamorphoses’ at Arena Stage. I always find this director’s work inspiring and the fact that this show involves a large pool whets my theatrical appetite!”