This is why I have feared Washington theater for the past two years. Not because of the quality. Don’t get me wrong. I was afraid I’d become a thespian junkie again. But this year’s Helen Hayes Awards knocked me off the wagon. The raucous ceremony, full of proud actors cheering on their colleagues and capped by the region’s largest “cast party” kick-started all my dormant Stanislavski synapses. That night reminded me that the capital region has a pulsating theater scene, with 67 active professional companies (as of print time). I also learned that some of the smallest companies can be among the best. SYNETIC THEATRE (4041 S. 28th Street, Arlington, Va.), for example, was nominated for 16 awards, won six, and stole the show. The entire theatrical scene, I was also told, is in the middle of a renaissance of youth. Perhaps all the 30-to-40 something actors, comme moi, have packed it in to become journalists.
I was clearly getting hooked, and soon became obsessed with the reportorial rabbit hole at THE STUDIO THEATRE (1501 14th Street NW). First off was Anne Washburn’s The Internationalist. Unfortunately, Washburn’s writing didn’t live up to its hype. The plot got stuck somewhere near the end of the first act and the resolution didn’t affect me. The acting, however, was top-notch, starting with James Konicek, whose dual portrayal of Paul and Simon was masterful. Then came The History Boys – easily the best performance I’ve seen in Washington. It blew away everything I saw in LA, including shows at the Mark Tapper Forum. The energy, focus and skill it takes to engage an audience for two and a half hours has a narcotic effect. My “hit” for summer? Studio Theatre’s Jerry Springer: The Opera.
Speaking of opera, the WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA’s run of Handel’s 18th century Baroque work Tamerlano proved that general director Placido Domingo is still in full command of his craft. The WNO debut of counter tenor David Daniels in the title role was, however, a bit of a bad trip. For the operatically uninitiated, countertenors are men performing with essentially a female mezzo-soprano’s role. We know that when Handel composed Tamerlano, men preformed the women’s roles; thus, the need for a counter tenor. Adding to the gender bending aspects, Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon portrayed Prince Andronico, who, in the opera, is in love with Asteria (played by soprano Sarah Coburn, daughter of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn), creating an interesting female-to-female dalliance. Who knew Handel was so bi-curious? I agree with the general consensus that WNO’s production of Electra was a more enjoyable and will be going through opera withdrawal until La Traviata opens on September 13. Hopefully, my opera counselor, Ina Ginsburg, will have the patience to walk me safely through this classic production.
My friends finally intervened after I almost overdosed on works by John Kander and Fred Ebb (the longestrunning songwriting partnership in Broadway musical history) thanks to SIGNATURE THEATRE’s (4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Va.) four-month salute to the duo that featured new productions of Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Happy Time, and the East Coast premiere of new musical The Visit, starring Chita Rivera and George Hearn. I’m in self-imposed drama rehab at the moment but plan to finish just in time for Signature’s sizzlin’ “Summer Nights Concert Series,” starting July 16. It features three weeks of music and performances in the intimate ARK Theatre. That’s music, though. Not really theater, right …?