March 3, 2011 | by Patrick Folliard
From Williams to Albee

An unprecedented survey of gay playwright Edward Albee’s vast canon begins this week at Arena Stage (Photo courtesy of Arena).

Spring is upon us, and that means the 2010-11 theater season isn’t getting any younger. Still, a lot remains to be seen: Highlights include a pair of festivals celebrating the beyond brilliant careers of two great, gay American playwrights: Edward Albee and the late Tennessee Williams.

Because Arena Stage is committed to focusing on the best of American theater, and Albee is widely considered our greatest living dramatist, the company is wisely spotlighting his works this spring at its impressively redone Southwest D.C. home, the Mead Center for American Theater.

The centerpiece of the festival are fully staged productions of Albee’s searing domestic drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (through April 10) starring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as the boozy, battling spouses George and Martha; and Albee’s more recent work “At Home at the Zoo” (through April 24), a riveting peek into the lives of three New Yorkers. Thirty events comprised primarily of staged readings of his plays are scheduled — the festival is unprecedentedly featuring Albee’s entire canon.

Similarly, across town the Georgetown University Theater and Performance Studies Program at the Davis Performing Arts Center, in partnership with the American Studies Program and Arena Stage, is presenting a very ambitious Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival (Tenn Cent Fest).  Included in the extensive, multidisciplinary program is a production of “The Glass Menagerie” featuring Sarah Marshall, who is gay, as the former Southern belle mother Amanda Wingfield, a character based on the playwright’s own mother.

Along with many plays, concerts and screenings there will be a staged reading of Williams’ phantasmagorical allegory “Camino Real” (March 25) featuring Broadway actors Theodore Bikel and Kathleen Chalfant. Additionally, gay filmmaker and Williams fan John Waters is performing his solo show “This Filthy World” (March 27).

For musical theater lovers, there’s this: Broadway legend Bernadette Peters is starring in the Kennedy Center’s hotly anticipated production of gay composer Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” Staged by Eric Schaeffer (Signature Theatre’s gay artistic director), the Tony Award-winning musical centers on a reunion of aging, ex-chorines on the eve of the destruction of the theater where they once performed. This revival’s star-jammed cast also features (among others) Elaine Paige, Linda Lavin, Florence Lacey and Régine, the flame-haired chanteuse of a certain age who became famous for entertaining jet setters in her eponymously named discotheques in Paris and New York.

Other spring musicals include Signature Theatre’s world premiere musical comedy “And the Curtain Rises” which “loosely re-imagines the theatrical bedlam surrounding the creation of the first American musical;” also at Signature is “Side by Side by Sondheim” (April 26-June 12) a sampling of the musical genius’ early work staged by gay director Matthew Gardiner; and a national tour of “The Color Purple” (April 12-24) is coming to the oddly underused National Theatre.

On a more intimate musical note, Galactica (the pink-haired alter ego of Ganymede Arts gay artistic director Jeffrey Johnson) is premiering her new, yet-to-be-named show (May 20, 21) at Black Fox Lounge. Again accompanied by talented gay musician Christopher Wingert, Galactica promises to sing — not lip sync — a fabulous set list including songs by Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones and many more.

In March, Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) presents Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” (March 8-April 10), a wickedly funny, timeless comedy that deals with blackmail, political corruption and public and private honor set in the gay playwright’s upper class England.

Following the Wilde play, local veteran actor Holly Twyford, who is gay, will make her STC debut in a production of Harold Pinter’s chilling study of perception “Old Times” (May 17-July 3). STC’s gay artistic director Michael Kahn is slated to direct.

Throughout April, Gala Hispanic Theatre presents “Divorcees, Evangelists and Vegetarians” (4/7-5/1) a wired Latin comedy about three women at their wits’ end who ultimately “find comfort, and salvation, in each other.” Like almost all of Gala’s offerings, the show will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles. ]

Synetic Theater — the company celebrated for its inventive choreography, imaginative staging, and fit casts — is interpreting Shakespeare’s “King Lear” (thru 4/24).

Factory 449: a theater collective is doing playwright Caridad Svich’s “Magnificent Waste” (April 9-May 8), “a glittering but brutal exploration of modern society’s superficiality and the objectification of the human body.” Collective co-founder John Moletress, who is gay, is scheduled to direct.

Beginning in May, Washington Shakespeare Company joins the Tennessee Williams’ salute with the “Tennessee Continuum” (May 12-July 3) a double-bill of rarely performed one acts: “Portrait of a Madonna,” an early sketch of the character who would become Blanche DuBois, and “The Gnädiges Fräulein,” the “thinly disguised allegory of his own creative life.”

And finally, for those willing to break the bank for a chance to hobnob with theater legends in environs more comfortable than the stage door, there are options: Arena Stage is honoring Edward Albee with the American Artist Award (March 14) at its marvelous waterfront campus. In addition to cocktails and dinners there will be tributes from Elaine Stritch and Kathleen Turner. A month later, Signature is stylishly honoring Bernadette Peters with the Stephen Sondheim Award (April 11) at the swank Italian Embassy.

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