December 28, 2016 at 10:00 am EST | by Patrick Folliard
A dazzling year for theater
D.C. theater 2016, D.C. theater 2016, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Felicia Curry, Natascia Diaz, Kate Rigg and Beth Hylton in ‘Collective Rage: a Play in Five Boops,’ one of the year’s best local productions. (Photo by Scott Suchman)

The past year in theater was surprisingly eclectic, often satisfying and sometimes thrilling. There were splashy musicals, quiet dramas and a lot in between. Below are a few standouts.

Signature Theatre kicked off summer with a smashing production of Jerry Herman’s life- and family-affirming musical “La Cage aux Folles.” Local out actor Bobby Smith hit all the right notes — comic and otherwise — as Albin/Zaza, a cabaret illusionist who dons drag offstage to save the day when his lover’s son marries into a far-right political family.

It was a good year for women’s roles. Out actor Holly Twyford was quietly splendid in Forum Theatre’s production of out playwright Steve Yockey’s “Blackberry Winter,” an exquisitely penned work about a woman’s experience caring for a mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Sensitively directed by Michael Dove, Twyford delivered an endearing performance rife with humor and insight. Let’s hope she and the piece are remembered when awards are handed out.

Signature’s “The Gulf” by local playwright Audrey Cefaly tells the story of a mismatched but passionate lesbian couple forced to examine their relationship when their fishing boat breaks down on a remote back waterway. The premier production was beautifully directed by out director Joe Calarco and stunningly acted by Rachel Zampelli and Maria Rizzo.

Before Trump put the “p-word” in the New York Times, women were bandying it about in Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.” Of course, the five characters (all named Betty and mostly gay) use it in a far more empowering and funny way that the president elect. This quirky tale staged by Mike Donahue follows the lives of five entangled — sometimes romantically — New Yorkers. The stellar cast featured Felicia Curry, Natascia Diaz, out actor Kate Rigg, Beth Hylton and Dorea Schmidt.

This year also saw some interesting reimagining of the Bard’s controversial play “The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Theatre Company’s all-male take on the classic staged by out director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar was an entertaining and inventively immersive piece. Out actor Maulik Pancholy (TV’s “Thirty Rock”) played it straight as the shrew, Katherina. The cast also included out actors Oliver Thornton as the modelesque Bianca, Broadway’s André De Shields as the lascivious Cardinal and other parts, and local favorite Rick Hammerly as a cougarish Countess.

And more recently at WSC Avant Bard, emerging playwright Jonelle Walker’s “TAME” turned the old tale on its ear. Walker’s take is set in small town Texas circa 1960 where a young lesbian named Cat played by Jill Tighe is flung together with Patrick (Brendan Edward Kennedy), a shady youth minister entrusted with ridding her of homosexuality and bringing her back to Jesus via cruel means.

In early autumn, GALA Hispanic Theatre presented “Cervantes, The Last Quixote,” a thrilling and perfectly made retelling of the beleaguered Spanish writer’s life. Led by out director, José Luis Arellano, whose staging of “Yerma” at GALA last season won a 2016 Helen Hayes Award, the excellent cast included Ṓscar de la Fuente’s in the title role, the reliably astounding Luz Nicolás, and out Eric Robledo and Erick Sotomayor.

At Mosaic Theater, out director Serge Seiden staged Cori Thomas’ refreshing “When January Feels Like Summer,” a Harlem-set romantic comedic that plays out in a world in which the improbable becomes probable. Thomas’ uplifting work featured real life, diverse characters played by a diverse cast adeptly led by Seiden in his debut with the company.

Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre very memorably collaborated on a formidable production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Part One and Two,” the out playwright’s seminal piece about politics and the explosion of the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York City. Out actor Tom Story gave a deeply affecting performance as Prior, a gay man sick with AIDS who emerges as a sort of prophet of his times.

In late January Round House continues its Celebration of Tony Kushner with his musical “Carolyn, Or Change,” starring Nova Y. Peyton  as an African American cleaning working for a white family in Louisiana during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

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