Three works by noted New York puppeteer Basil Twist are coming to this area next spring — a mini-festival coordinated by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
“Basil is one of the leading puppeteers in this country and really redefines puppetry in so many ways,” says Shakespeare’s Managing Director Chris Jennings. “I thought the best way for people to see his work is through the full breadth of his work, because no piece is like another. So it’s a big undertaking and it’s taken us three years to kind of wrangle and be able to finally bring it to fruition.”
The Shakespeare will present Twist’s re-imagining of the Russian ballet “Petrushka,” with Igor Stravinsky’s score arranged for two pianos. That will run at the Lansburgh, March 16-25, 2012, as a tie-in with the Shakespeare’s Youth and Family Series.
Woolly Mammoth will present “Arias With a Twist,” featuring New York drag diva Joey Arias performing a cabaret within fantastical puppetry environments — from the Garden of Eden to Hell. It will run April 4-29, 2012.
The Clarice Smith Center at U-Md., where Twist has been the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence at the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies for 2010-11, will present his “Symphonie Fantastique” March 29-31, 2012. In that work, a pianist plays Liszt’s arrangement of the Berlioz score, while puppeteers manipulate slips of cloth inside a water tank.
The Washington mini-fest is the first time three of Twist’s pieces have been done in one city in such a closely scheduled repertory, says Trist, 41. “It doesn’t seem like [I’m] old enough to have a gathering of shows like that, to look at my work together like that,” he says. “It’s very flattering. It’s very humbling, too.”
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s 32nd season will focus on the end of civilization. Yet the plays are “comedies with very serious content,” says Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz.
Woolly’s 2011-12 roster is “not at all a dark and gloomy season,” he maintains. “It’s really a celebratory season about the liberation of thinking about transition in our civilization. . . . We all know the ground is shifting from underneath us.”
In “A Bright New Boise” (Oct. 10-Nov. 6) by Samuel D. Hunter, a Christian fundamentalist father, who has left a cultlike group, turns up in Boise, hoping to reconnect with his estranged son, yet longing for the Rapture. John Vreeke will direct.
“Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies” (Dec. 6, 2011-Jan. 8, 2012) will feature Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe collaborating with Woolly company members on a new piece that will riff on the end-of-civilization theme.
“Civilization (All You Can Eat)” (Feb. 13-March 11, 2012) by Jason Grote (“Maria/Stuart,” “1001”) is a world premiere that Shalwitz will direct. Four friends, just out of grad school in 2008, are inspired by the Obama presidential run and terrified by the economic meltdown.
“Arias With a Twist” (April 4-April 29, 2012), part of the Basil Twist mini-festival.
“Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” (May 28-July 1, 2012) is a world premiere by Anne Washburn (“The Internationalist”), directed by Steven Cosson. Washburn imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which survivors keep their sanity by reenacting their favorite episodes of “The Simpsons.”
In 2005, Stephen Spotswood read an article in Washington City Paper about grave-robbers in 19th-century Washington who sold cadavers to medical schools.
When the 33-year-old playwright was approached by Mary Resing, artistic director of Active Cultures in Prince George’s County, to write a play about 19th-century life, he remembered that article.
Based in Mount Rainier, Active Cultures specializes in new works with some connection to the Washington area — past and present.
From the story, Spotswood recalled the name of a particularly audacious, publicity-seeking grave-robber, Vigo Jansen. Jansen, who went under various aliases, booked the long-gone Theatre Comique on 11th Street in downtown D.C. for a one-man show in which he would demonstrate and discuss his grave-robbing career. Critics were not impressed. It closed.
Spotswood uses Jansen’s flop as a premise on which to hang a backstage comedy with a serious subtext. “The Resurrectionist King,” with Evan Crump as Jansen, runs through April 17 at Active Cultures, which performs at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Rd., Mount Rainier.
“I thought, oh, this would be a great way to talk about life and death and what does being alive mean to each and every one of us,” says Spotswood.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.