Patrick Stewart is playing Othello; Elizabeth Ashley will appear in Sweet Bird Of Youth. These are the most publicized highlights of the 1997-98 season at Washington DC's Shakespeare Theatre, but three other plays are also on the schedule, including Peer Gynt and The Merry Wives Of Windsor.
Beginning the season Sept. 2, is The Tempest, directed by former Guthrie Theatre artistic director, Garland Wright. Wright's previous credits include Vanities and On The Verge Off Broadway. In Tempest, Ted van Griethuysen plays Prospero, Wallace Acton, Ariel, and Floyd King, Trinculo, during the Sept. 2-Oct. 26 run The press opening is Sept. 7, with a "gala opening" the following night.
Acton will be a busy actor this season; he'll also play Peer Gynt in a Michael Kahn-directed staging of Henrik Ibsen's fantastical drama of a dreamer who travels the world in search of meaning. Gynt runs Jan. 20-March 8, 1998. Gynt opens Jan. 25, 1998, with a "Gala Opening" the following night.
That classically trained actor Patrick Stewart will star in Othello is not tremendously surprising. That he's playing the title character -- a moor -- is, especially since the remaining cast will be played by African-Americans. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the UK's West Yorkshire Playhouse, directs this defiantly non-traditional approach, which runs Nov. 11-Jan. 4. Othello opens Nov. 16, with a "Gala Opening" the following night.
Another season highlight would appear to be a revival of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth, starring Elizabeth Ashley. Artistic director Michael Kahn, who directed Ashley in the 1974 Broadway revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, will stage the 1959 work about a fading actress being used by an ambitious conman on a downward spiral. Ashley's other Broadway credits include Take Her She's Mine, Caesar And Cleopatra, Barefoot In The Park and the 1995 Broadway revival of Suddenly Last Summer. Kahn's directing credits include the Williams plays A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie and Camino Real. Sweet Bird Of Youth plays May 26-July 12, 1998, with an official opening May 31, 1998 and a "Gala Opening" the following night. It's chaos in the countryside when Shakespeare's The Merry Wives Of Windsor takes the stage March 24-May 10, 1998. Daniel Fish directs the comedy, which stars David Sabin as Falstaff, Floyd King as Master Ford and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Mistress Quickly. The official opening is March 29, with a "Gala Opening" the following night.
Also part of the season will be the eighth annual "Shakespeare Theatre Free For All," featuring Kelly McGillis playing Helena in All's Well That Ends Well. Other programs include "Meet The Cast" presentations, "Afterwords" discussions, and the in-school program, "Text Alive!".
Members of the Shakespeare Ensemble include the aforementioned actors, as well as Emery Battis and Edward Gero. Artistic director Kahn is especially proud of the new season because it's the first time the company will have a five-play season: "Our audience will now have the chance to see a wider repertory of great classics."
Subscriptions to Shakespeare Theatre range from $55 to $245 (there are also "Young Theatregoer" subscriptions available for $34-$190). For information call (202) 547-1122.
--By David Lefkowitz