December 27, 2012 | by Patrick Folliard
Year in review: Gems from the stage
From left are Chris Stezin, Liz Mamana, Kimberly Gilbert and Will Gartshore in ‘The Religion Thing.’ (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy Theater J)

From left are Chris Stezin, Liz Mamana, Kimberly Gilbert and Will Gartshore in ‘The Religion Thing.’ (Photo by C. Stanley Photography; courtesy Theater J)

Like so many past years, 2012 also saw an energetic pool of LGBT theater professionals contributing to the vitality and success of the ever-expanding local theater scene. The following gives you an idea.

Undoubtedly, one of the area’s hardest working theater folks throughout this year has been Signature Theatre’s gay associate director Matthew Gardiner. He’s also one of its most talented.

Gardiner staged four excellent and very different Signature productions beginning with “Really Really,” a comic tragedy about today’s mind numbingly self-absorbed youth. Next up, he directed and choreographed a well-executed production of the ‘70s campfest musical, “Xanadu.” In the fall, he helmed gay playwright Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” an intimate drama about life and death in the shadow of the Iraq War with strapping actor Thomas Keegan playing both the butch army officer and his more effusive gay identical twin. Gardiner finished the year directing and choreographing a first rate production of “Dreamgirls.” And if all that weren’t enough, sometime in early fall he made time to choreograph MetroStage’s notable production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.”

Last spring’s “Twist Festival D.C.” gave local audiences were given an opportunity to experience the magic of gay puppeteer extraordinaire Basil Twist. The mini-fest kicked off at the Shakespeare Theatre Company with “Petrushka,” Twist’s trippy take on the classic Russian ballet about a love triangle involving three puppets: the eponymous clown, a ballerina and a Moor. Originally commissioned for New York’s Lincoln Center in 2000, the charming show featured pirouetting puppets and floating objects accompanied by real life Russian identical twins playing a reduction of Igor Stravinsky’s score on identical pianos.

Other festival productions included “Arias with a Twist” (Twist’s campy collaboration with legendary downtown New York drag performer Joey Arias); and “Dogugaeshi,” a Japanese-inspired journey of images accompanied by original Japanese lute compositions (at Woolly Mammoth and Studio Theatre respectively).

Over the year, art imitated life with gay actors giving memorable performances as gay characters including Tom Story and Chris Dinolfo as a mismatched but devoted couple in Roundhouse Theatre’s “Next Fall.” Rep Stage’s production of gay playwright Jon Marans’ “The Temperamentals” featured Rick Hammerly as Bob Hull, a founding member of the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Society (the first gay rights organization in the United States). And at Theater J, MaryBeth Wise played one half of a same-sex couple in Annie Baker’s comic drama “Body Awareness.”

Also at Theater J, Will Gartshore played an allegedly “ex-gay” Christian in “The Religion Thing” (penned by local playwright Renee Calarco and staged by her gay brother, director Joe Calarco). Gartshore’s layered performance gave dimension to a character that might otherwise have been perceived simply as a creepy stereotype.

Impressively, Gartshore performed three different one-man cabarets in just two weeks this summer: A mix of well-known and obscure tunes titled “Underappreciated & Overexposed” at Signature Theatre, “Dressed Up” the next weekend, then companion piece “Stripped Down” at Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring space. With his gorgeous tenor, talent for intimate storytelling and ability to put across both a painful breakup song and cheekily spun version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” with equal ease, Gartshore took his audiences on a gratifying and fun musical journey. D.C. is lucky to have him.

Local out actor Bobby Smith showed off his skill set in 2012. In the fall, Smith wowed audiences playing the title character in MetroStage’s topnotch production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue celebrating the work of the late singer/songwriter known as the voice of postwar Paris. Smith was terrific as the world weary, cynical yet sentimental Brel.

Following “Jacques Brel,” Smith staged a charming take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical “Cinderella” at the Olney Theatre Center (runs through Dec. 30).

In 2012, some openly gay actors played it straight. The versatile and nimble Alex Mills starred as the upstanding scientist and his terrifying alter ego in Synetic Theatre’s “Jeckyll and Hyde.” Broadway actor Nicholas Rodriquez returned to Arena Stage to play love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the Edwardian dandy who falls in love with Eliza in “My Fair Lady” (through Jan. 6). And Holly Twyford and Matthew Montelongo fought and fornicated in Studio Theatre’s world premiere of “Dirt,” Bryony Lavery’s play about morality and decay.

A highlight from this year was Arena Stage’s production of Larry Kramer’s stunning drama “The Normal Heart.” Considered a rant when it premiered in New York in 1985, Kramer’s autobiographical AIDS play has aged beautifully — still full of fury but also empathetic, loving and sad. This production was skillfully staged by gay director George C. Wolfe and featured a fabulous cast including Patrick Breen as Ned, the Kramer character, and handsome Luke MacFarlane as his lover who has been diagnosed with the virus.

For Shakespeare Theatre Company’s gay artistic director Michael Kahn, 2012 was a spectacular year. Not only did his company celebrating its 25th anniversary season, it was also honored with the prestigious Regional Theatre Tony Award. Not too shabby.

1 Comment
  • Thank you Patrick. Appreciate your recognition of our production of Brel along with Matt and Bobby's work. But just a reminder that last year we did a notable production of Lonely Planet with two remarkable actors Michael Russotto and Eric Sutton.

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