Despite a still-struggling economy, it’s been a pretty good year for theater in the D.C. area. Along with the crowd-pleasing big musicals, there has been a wide variety of riskier and more offbeat productions. Interestingly, the year that brought marriage equality to the nation’s capital also saw an unusually high number of LGBT couples (some married, others not) enjoying productive theatrical collaborations.
Ganymede Arts, D.C.’s only company dedicated to the LGBT experience, grabbed theatergoers’ attention with two terrific musical productions in 2010: “Naked Boys Singing” in the spring, and more recently “Falsettos,” Lapine and Williams’ gay-themed musical about love and family in the time of AIDS.
Surely one of the harder working folks in local theater, Ganymede’s gay artistic director Jeffrey Johnson staged both shows and played the lead, Marvin, in “Falsettos.” He performed two one-woman shows — his pink-haired drag persona Galactica act and “After the Garden — Edie Beale LIVE at Reno Sweeney” — locally and on tour. True to industrious form, Johnson is closing the year with a new non-lip syncing Galactica cabaret show tonight at Noi’s Nook on 14th Street, N.W.
Holly Twyford tested her range in 2010, playing a tap dancing pig in Adventure Theatre’s summer production “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” Twyford, an award-winning local actor who is gay returned to children’s theater after a long absence in order to give her young daughter a chance to see what mommy does for a living. More recently, Twyford played Pamela, a boozy, country club cougar in Signature’s premiere of Ken Ludwig’s comedy “A Fox on the Fairway,” a show to which her little girl was most probably not invited.
In September, Factory 449 continued building its reputation for impressive and challenging work with Erik Ehn’s “The Saint Plays,” an exploration of traditional saints in contemporary settings. Directed and produced respectively by John Moletress and Rick Hammerly, both of whom are gay, the ensemble production was beautifully acted and imaginatively staged.
At Studio Theatre (a favorite with Blade readers), gay director Serge Seiden drew excellent performances from small casts in two plays featuring complex, intergenerational relationships: “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake,” and Tracey Letts’ comedy “Superior Donuts.”
Many good things came from out of town this year including the New York-based, gay actor Nicholas Rodriguez. Currently playing cowboy Curly in Arena Stage’s hit production “Oklahoma!,” the handsome young Broadway actor became widely known for playing earnest-but-sexy activist Nick Chavez, the third man in a tumultuous gay love triangle on TV’s “One Life to Live.” Rodriguez initially came to Washington in the spring to play Latin lover Fabrizio in Adam Guettel’s gorgeous musical “The Light in the Piazza” (also at Arena).
Veteran gay actor John Glover is usually found in New York or L.A., but in March he came to town and put his stamp on the part of over-the-top opera queen Mendy (a role originally created by gay actor Nathan Lane) in Terrence McNally’s “The Lisbon Traviatia.” The production was part of the Kennedy Center’s mini-festival “Terrence McNally’s Nights at the Opera.”
Gay director José Luis Arellano García made the trip from Spain to Columbia Heights to stage an earthy and athletic production of Lope de Vega’s “El caballero de Olmedo” (“The Knight from Olmedo”) at Gala Hispanic Theatre. García’s partner, David R. Peralto, provided a varying pulse to the circa 1620 tragedy with his own period-sounding compositions and selected folk music.
For a short time in October, D.C. audiences were delighted with the brilliant work of British director Declan Donnellan and his longtime partner (professional and personal) set designer Nick Ormerod. As part of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival, the couple brought stellar productions (performed in Russian by fabulous Russian actors) of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and an all-male production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” to the Kennedy Center.
Local theater couple Christopher Henley (Washington Shakespeare Company’s artistic director) and Jay Hardee successfully continued their collaboration on and off stage in 2010. In addition to marrying in the fall, the talented pair recently co-staged a strikingly inventive production of “Richard III” in the company’s spanking new black box space in Arlington’s Artisphere. Earlier this year, Hardee directed Henley as “He,” the embodiment of state-inflicted evil in the world English language premiere of Chilean playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra’s “Every Young Woman’s Desire,” an intense allegory of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.
On April 8 at the Warner Theatre in what was definitely one of the highlights of the theater year, famed gay playwright Terrence McNally, 70, warmly presented the Helen Hayes Tribute to his “friend, colleague and ex,” the even more famous gay playwright Edward Albee (the pair were lovers in the 1960s). McNally lauded Albee’s genius as evidenced by a long list of extraordinary works, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Zoo Story,” “A Delicate Balance” and more (Albee has multiple Tonys and Pulitzers). At a small party the night before the awards, Albee, 82, shared with the Blade his appreciation of the energetic D.C. theater scene and its intelligent audiences.