For strongest lineup on Washington stages this season, I’ll take the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I’m excited for the big-deal return to America of Stephen Daldry’s cinematically directed “An Inspector Calls,” plus the once-in-a-lifetime chance (at least in the United States) to see a major staging of “The Oresteia,” the only complete trilogy we have from ancient Greek drama.
“An Inspector Calls” was a neglected post-World War II melodrama by J.B. Priestley before becoming an international hit in the early 1990s as staged for London’s National Theatre by Daldry, now better known for his work on the screen (“Billy Elliott,” “The Hours,” “The Crown”). An inspector probes the wide implications of a suicide; Daldry’s production includes a touch of spectacle that’s not easy to forget.
“The Oresteia” is the tragic cycle by Aeschylus that charts the fall of the House of Atreus, a family consumed by an-eye-for-an-eye justice. This rare project, newly adapted by Ellen McLaughlin, is artistic director Michael Kahn’s drop-the-mic exit as he retires after more than 30 years running STC. Last week, the company announced that British director Simon Godwin, an associate director at the National, would succeed Kahn.
Snugly tucked between those majestic pillars, both slated for the two-stage troupe’s larger Harman Hall, are a pair of lighter shows. One comes from David Ives, the peerless classical cutup who left audiences helpless in recent seasons with his rhyming “The Metromaniacs,” “The Liar” and more. This time, Ives plunders the German comedy (!) of Carl Sternheim, adapting Sternheim’s early-20th-century social satires into “The Panties, the Partner and the Profit: Scenes From the Heroic Life of the Middle Class” and scooting the time frame forward to 1950 Boston, 1986 Wall Street and Malibu today. Kahn will direct.
The other is “Vanity Fair,” a seven-actor adaptation of the 1848 William Makepeace Thackeray novel by writer-performer Kate Hamill, whose “entertainingly mobile” (as The Post’s Peter Marks wrote) “Sense and Sensibility” was a recent success at the Folger Theatre. “Vanity Fair” deals with the rough-edged social climber Becky Sharp — “not a feminist heroine,” the New York Times noted last year as it praised the show’s entertaining style.
There will be Shakespeare, of course: the slapstick “The Comedy of Errors” directed by STC associate artistic director Alan Paul (of the STC’s recent box-office champ “Camelot”) and the sinister “Richard III,” directed by David Muse, former associate artistic director and current Studio Theatre head.
The top new works this season will be at Studio and Woolly Mammoth, the companies that most consistently tell you where theater is and where it’s going. Arena Stage’s lineup includes the area premieres of Paula Vogel’s acclaimed “Indecent” and Ayad Akhtar’s 1980s-set Wall Street play “Junk.” Round House Theatre snagged two coveted recent New York titles — “Oslo” and “A Doll’s House, Part 2” — and will perform them at the STC’s Lansburgh stage next spring as Round House renovates in Bethesda. That makes the STC even more of a destination this season.