September 8, 2011 | by Patrick Folliard
Standouts from the stage

Gay actress Delia Taylor as Winnie in WSC’s ‘Happy Days’ featuring the imaginative set design work of Tony Cisek, also gay. (Photo courtesy WSC Avant Bard)

The fall theater season is here. With that comes a deluge of new productions and for one longstanding local company, a new name. What was the Washington Shakespeare Company is now WSC Avant Bard, a clever adjustment better fitting the troupe’s mission to boldly interpret the classics.

WSC’s season opens with Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” (through Sept. 25). Mostly a monologue, the 1961 absurdist work spotlights Winnie, an upbeat, chirpy woman who passes her days chatting endlessly while becoming increasingly immobilized in the hot sun in the middle of nowhere. And yet she remains cheery, unfazed by her situation. As Winnie, Delia Taylor, who’s gay, brings intelligence, sensitivity and a lot of humor to the tough role.

Beckett calls for his heroine to be stuck in a mound and most productions comply with some sort of sandy or rocky pile, but not here. Set designer Tony Cisek, also gay, takes another tack ingeniously locking Winnie into endless yards of fabric. Trapped in her dress like a little doll in a giant doll cake, she sits atop her sartorial prison talking, arranging her cocktail hat and rummaging through a capacious satchel in search of necessities ranging from a toothbrush to a long barreled pistol. Her confined world is backed by an endless curve of beautiful blue sky.

Splendidly staged by director Jose Carrasquillo (gay too), the surprisingly poignant production comments on optimism and the fleeting nature of life. Carrasquillo also displays terrific timing as Winnie’s uncommunicative, slug-like husband Willie who makes his home in a hole behind his wife’s skirts. (wscavantbard.org)

Up-and-coming No Rules Theatre Company kicks off its season with Diane Son’s “Stop Kiss” (through Oct. 2) at the H Street Playhouse. It’s the story of two young women who are brutally assaulted after kissing in public. Acclaimed local actor Holly Twyford (who’s gay) makes her directorial debut. (norulestheatre.org)

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s gay artistic director Michael Kahn begins his season with a world premiere production of Jean-François Regnard’s 1708 farce  “The Heir Apparent” (through Oct. 23) adapted by the brilliant David Ives. (shakespearetheatre.org)

Venus Theatre opens with the world premiere of “The Stenographer” (through Sept. 25) by Greek playwright Zoe Mavroudi. The two-hander featuring local bi actor Frank Britton and Amy Rhodes is essentially a tale about writing and what happens when writing implicates the writer. Housed in an intimate storefront venue in Laurel, Md., Venus’ mission is to foster the voices of women and children in the theater. (venustheatre.org)

Ganymede Arts may have closed its doors, but the LGBT-centric company’s former artistic director Jeffrey Johnson remains active. In October, Johnson and singer/songwriter Tom Goss (both gay) are joining forces for two nights of music titled “Under the Covers” (Oct. 21-22) at the Black Fox Lounge. The show offers a rare chance to see Johnson perform as himself and not his pink-haired alter ego. (pinkhairedone.com).

The Studio Theatre starts off with “The Habit of Art” (through Oct. 16) by Alan Bennett, the gay playwright who wrote “The History Boys.” Based on a fictional meeting between poet W.H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten (both Brits, both gay), the 2009 work is described as “wistful and filthily funny.” The strong cast includes a talented trio: Ted van Griethuysen, Patxon Whitehead and gay actor Cameron Folmar.

In November, Studio’s gay artistic producing director Serge Seiden stages German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s “The Golden Dragon” (Nov. 2- Dec. 11), a comic look at people whose lives are interconnected by a Chinese restaurant. The five- person cast (including the terrific Sarah Marshall, who’s — you guessed it — gay) cross age, race, and gender to play 15 characters. (studiotheatre.org)

At Gala Hispanic Theatre, Spain-based gay director José Luis Arellano-García is staging “¡Ay, Carmela!” (Sept. 15-Oct. 9), the story of a vaudeville team forced to perform for Franco’s fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. According to Gala’s associate producing director Abel Lopez, “The playwright [José Sanchis Sinisterra] pays homage to gay Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca by referring to him in a scene when Carmela speaks about meeting Lorca in the afterlife. The similarities surrounding Lorca’s assassination by the fascists and Carmela’s execution are striking. Both stood up for their beliefs and paid dearly for it.” (galatheatre.org)

The green-eyed monster is poised to stride the boards at Folger Theatre. Staged by Robert Richmond, the company’s “Othello” (Oct. 16–Nov. 27) features Owiso Odera in the title role, and reunites members of the creative team behind last season’s “Henry VIII” including celebrated gay designers William Ivey Long (costumes) and busy Tony Cisek (sets). Zehra Fazal who’s best known for her one woman tour de force “Headscarf and the Angry Bitch” plays Bianca. (folger.edu)

Signature Theatre’s fall season begins with two musical premieres: “The Boy Detective Fails” (through Oct. 16), the story of a kid sleuth who grows up to investigate the mystery surrounding his own sister’s death. It’s staged by Joe Calarco and composed by Adam Gwon (both gay). “The Hollow” — based on Washington Irving’s classic tale — is staged by Matthew Gardiner and composed by Matt Conner (also both gay).

Next up at Signature, E. Patrick Johnson performs his one-man play “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South” (Sept. 13-Oct .9). In this new work based on his acclaimed book, Johnson, chair of the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, relays his own story and those of a dozen other men he’s interviewed and come to know.

And later in the season, Signature’s gay artistic director Eric Schaeffer stages the musical “Hairspray” (Nov. 21-Jan. 29) adapted from John Waters’ 1988 Baltimore-set flick about big girls, big hair and racial segregation. In what might prove a stroke of casting genius, Schaeffer has tapped radio personality Robert Aubry Davis to play Edna, everyone’s favorite plus size house frau. We’ll just have to wait and see. (signature-theatre.org)

 

 

 

 

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