Today, theater lovers and other curious readers, we lay out for you Folger Theatre‘s 2014-15 season, the 10th of our dives into the theater waves of Washington’s future. Folger’s plan of action includes another visit from Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and sturdy Shakespeare-inspired works by Tom Stoppard and Friedrich Schiller. In prior go-rounds, we’ve surveyed the menus at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, Synetic Theater, Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre and Studio Theatre.
Company trademark: The Bard.
— “Hamlet,” by William Shakespeare, directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst (July 25-26)
— “King Lear,” by Shakespeare, directed by Buckhurst (Sept. 5-21)
— “Julius Caesar,” by Shakespeare, directed by Robert Richmond (Oct. 28-Dec.7)
— “Mary Stuart,” by Friedrich Schiller, directed by Richard Clifford (Jan. 27-March 8. 2015)
— “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” by Tom Stoppard, directed by Aaron Posner (May 12-June 21, 2015)
Highlights: Two favorite Folger actresses, Holly Twyford (“Arcadia,” etc.) and Kate Eastwood Norris (“Macbeth,” etc.) square off as Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, respectively, in Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” under the direction of Clifford, whose work for the Folger has included both Shakespeare (“All’s Well That Ends Well”) and non-Shakespeare (“The School for Scandal”). (Cody Nickell and Nancy Robinette are also in the cast.) Shakespeare’s Globe returns this summer, first with a two-day run of the touring version of “Hamlet” that also played there in 2012, and then with a “King Lear” starring Joseph Marcell, a classical British actor who once upon a time played the butler Geoffrey on TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Richmond, who staged Folger’s recent “Richard III,” is back for “Julius Casear,” and Posner–Folger’s other house director of late–digs into Stoppard’s trunkful of estimable works again, for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” with Ian Merrill Peakes (“Othello” ) back after an extended absence, as the Player King.
Analysis: Here’s proof of how difficult it is to program a classical season in a city awash in classics: All five plays on Folger’s roster have been produced at least once, and in some instances more than once, in D.C. in the last decade. Folger’s loyal audiences, enamored of the intimacy of the company’s courtyard-style theater, seem to take such occurrences in stride. The question with such a recognizable and oft-produced bill, is: where’s the novelty? Let’s hope that Richmond, Clifford and Posner, not to mention the directors and cast returning from the Globe, intend to show us facets of the plays we’ve never considered before — certainly not out of the realm of possibility. For me, the most intriguing of the productions is “Mary Stuart,” a historical drama that’s being produced with ever more frequency in this country, perhaps because its portrait of warring queens accords actresses of proven power the juiciest of platforms. (Schiller is certainly in vogue, as Shakespeare Theatre Company’s impressive adaptation of his “Wallenstein” demonstrated a year ago.) Twyford and Norris could not be better matched. It’s great to learn that the gifted Peakes will be back in the Folger fold, in a Posner production. And we eagerly await more details about “Julius Caesar.” Richmond is a director with some inspired ideas for staging Shakespeare, but his productions deflate a bit without equally inspired leads: it was his choice of Zach Appelman, for instance, that assured that his 2013 “Henry V” was a Folger triumph.