There is good news this week for fans of shock-and-awe theater: The thespian masterminds behind Cherry Red Productions are back. This time around, though, they plan to tone down the sex, blood and incest.
Cherry Red Productions, affectionately known as Washington’s raunchiest theater company, shuttered in 2011 after nearly two decades of putting on plays that didn’t hold back. This week, Cherry Red’s former artistic director, Ian Allen, announced plans to revive his collective under a new name, the Klunch. An impressive list of local theatrical types have signed up for the new endeavor, which will debut in December with Elaine May’s dark comedy “George Is Dead.”
“Yes, we did shows like ‘Cannibal Cheerleaders,’ but they take an outsized share when people remember Cherry Red,” Allen said from his New York home. “With this company, I’m not going to shy away from the sex and the violence, but that won’t be a main brand.”
Allen’s move to New York — where he runs a boutique theater marketing agency — was a big reason Cherry Red shut down. But he also thought the collective had outlived its era.
“Our first show was in 1995,” Allen said. “It was the age of ‘South Park’ and ‘Pulp Fiction.’ . . . With this company, we are starting something new. I’m just completely thrilled. . . . We rallied the troupes and shook the trees, and I’m really excited by what fell out. We have playwrights, directors, actors and designers.”
The Klunch collective takes its name from a slang term meaning getting sucked down the social-media or online-gaming rabbit hole. The “Klunchers” include people who are still based in Washington and folks who have moved away but will return home at least once a year to put on a new show. Names in the former category include director Joe Banno; playwright/director Kathleen Akerley; Christopher Henley, former artistic director of Washington Shakespeare Company (now WSC Avant Bard); and B. Stanley, executive director of the D.C. Arts Center.
The D.C. Arts Center, a tiny black-box in Adams Morgan, is where the Klunch plans to open “George Is Dead” on Dec. 3. The play has been on Allen’s mind since he saw it on Broadway in 2011 as part of a triptych that included microplays by Ethan Coen and Woody Allen.
May is better known for her screenwriting career than for her stagework; her film credits include “Primary Colors” and “The Birdcage.” But Allen thinks the play about a wealthy woman forced to deal with a tragedy affecting a former employee is just the sort of gripping drama the Klunch wants to produce.
“You can get in a klunch, meaning you are bringing the audience in, and really getting them involved,” Allen said.
Because mid-October is high time for December theater news, the Kennedy Center announced Tuesday the casting for the new Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical “Bright Star,” as well as the dates for the show’s Broadway run next year.
The bluegrass-inflected musical premiered last year at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, with Carmen Cusack starring as Alice, the editor of a Southern literary journal during the Depression. The tale jumps through time as Alice’s life intertwines with that of an aspiring writer, played by A.J. Shively, who goes off to fight in World War II. The creative team, which also includes director “Chicago” director Walter Bobbie, has decided to stick with Cusack and Shively as its leads. (“Bright Star’s” Kennedy Center run begins Dec. 2 and closes Jan. 10, with an official opening night Dec. 17.)
Tuesday’s announcement sets March 7 as the beginning date of Broadway previews and opening night as March 31. The show’s New York residence will be at a yet-to-be-named theater owned by the Shubert Organization.
Nearly all of the secondary characters will be played by actors who were not in the original cast, including three Tony nominees: Michael Mulheren, Dee Hoty and Jeff Blumenkrantz. Rounding out the cast are Emily Padgett, Tony Roach, Stephen Lee Anderson, Maddie Shea Baldwin, Allison Briner, Max Chernin, Patrick Cummings, Sandra DeNise, Hannah Elless, Richard Gatta, Lizzie Klemperer, Michael X. Martin, William Michals, Sarah Jane Shanks and William Youmans.
Signature Theatre’s fall musical “Cake-Off” picked up an important endorsement last week from an unexpected patron: Gaithersburg’s Carolyn Gurtz, the 2008 million-dollar winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Her husband read about the show in The Washington Post and surprised his wife with tickets.
Gurtz decided not to go incognito. She passed out recipes, donned her official Pillsbury jacket and wore Doughboy jewelry.
“There really aren’t other places in Washington where I can wear them,” Gurtz said.
After the show, cast members requested a chance to meet with the famous local baker.
“They were so nice. They made me feel like royalty,” Gurtz said, which is high praise from a woman who once made cookies on “The Tonight Show.” She also said that “Cake-Off’s” authenticity has made her a bigger fan of Washington theater.
“Laughter and tears, that’s what you felt in the play,” she said. “That’s also what I felt when I won.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.