In a year filled with compelling and wide-ranging theater — much of special interest to LGBT audiences — one of the best works was all about football, seriously.
The Olney Theatre Center mounted an unforgettable production of Andrew Hinderaker’s “Colossal” transforming the center’s intimate black box into a football field. Told in four quarters with a halftime show, the storyline focuses on Mike, an injured college football player who’s struggling with sexuality and his loss of mobility. Helmed by director Will Davis, who is transgender, and superbly choreographed by Christopher D’Amboise with additional movement choreography by Ben Cunis, the production oozed both testosterone and insight. Inspired performances were delivered by Chicago actor Michael Patrick Thornton as Mike, Joseph Carlson as pre-injury Mike, and Jon Hudson Odom as pre-injury Mike’s team co-captain and romantic interest.
There was room for baseball this year too. 1st Stage in Tysons presented a terrific version of gay playwright Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out.” Often called the gay baseball play, it’s the tale of team superstar Darren Lemming who unexpectedly holds a press conference announcing he’s gay. Lemming (played at 1st Stage by the excellent Jaysen Wright) mistakenly believes there’ll be no blowback. After all, bad things don’t happen to a young, rich and admired centerfielder.
Best known for pared-down interpretations of big musicals, Signature Theatre presented a truly first rate production of Laura Eason’s sexy and engaging play “Sex with Strangers.” Out actor Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile starred as the unlikely lovers in this story of a middle-aged novelist who gets together with a younger, womanizing blogger.
The year saw some compelling works at inviting venues in Anacostia. At the Anacostia Performing Arts Center, Factory 449 presented a stunning production of “The Amish Project,” a one-woman, seven-character recount of the killing of Amish schoolgirls by a crazed gunman. Holly Twyford directed Nanna Ingvarsson in a tour-de-force performance. And at the intimate Anacostia Playhouse, Scena Theatre’s artistic director Robert McNamara staged a well done production of gay British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s “Handbag,” a black comedy dealing with gay relationships, parenthood and child neglect in both Wildean and modern-day London.
2014 was a big year for D.C.’s young out director Matthew Gardiner. Among his high notes was an impeccably staged production of Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park With George” at Signature Theatre starring a talented pair of New York imports (the delightfully versatile Brynn O’Malley as Dot and handsome Claybourne Elder as George). He also staged “Ordinary Days” at Bethesda’s Round House Theater. Penned by out composer Adam Gwon, “Ordinary Days” is a fun and affecting musical about four young people’s intersecting lives in Manhattan. Under Gardiner’s sure hand, the perfectly cast ensemble was superb.
This year brought out-of-town talent to the D.C. theater scene including gay San Francisco-based playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb who spent time at Woolly Mammoth tweaking his new political comedy “The Totalitarians.” At the Shakespeare Theatre Company, British screen/stage star Siân Phillips played Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece “The Importance of Being Ernest.” And at Studio Theatre’s 2ndStage, Broadway’s marvelous Barbara Walsh gave a spooky turn as Margaret White, the fanatical and ill-fated mother in “Carrie: the Musical.”
Throughout 2014, respects were paid to some late great gay artists. The Shakespeare Theatre Company stylishly tipped its hat to gay British playwright Noël Coward with English director Maria Aitken’s gorgeous, funny, alive-yet-faithful production of Coward’s “Private Lives.” James Waterston played Elyot and an especially good and beautiful Bianca Amato was Amanda. Aitken’s production was all that is Coward: witty repartee, amusing situations, travel, soignée evening clothes, smart cocktails and cigarettes incessantly offered from silver cases.
The Company’s paean to Coward continued with Kneehigh Theatre’s delightful production of “Brief Encounter,” an adaptation of the same-named 1945 British film based on the gay playwright’s sentimental romance “Still Life.” Director/writer Emma Rice ingeniously blended theater and film incorporating projections, musical numbers and myriad clever touches.
In February, the In Series presented Steven Scott Mazzola and Greg Stevens “The Cole Porter Project: It’s All Right With Me” at Source. The gay pair’s collaborative tribute celebrated the staggering breadth of the gay composer’s music and explored his many facets without getting too bogged down in biography. And in April, innovative company force/collision marked the 20th anniversary of queer British filmmaker John Jarman’s death from AIDS complications with “JARMAN (all this maddening beauty),” a riveting multi-media collaboration featuring the company’s artistic director John Moletress.