Patrick Stewart played Othello; Elizabeth Ashley will appear in Sweet Bird Of Youth. These are the most publicized highlights of the current 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.
The Tempest, featuring Wallace Acton as Ariel, began the season Sept. 2. Acton is a busy actor this season; he also plays 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, translated adapted by Kenneth McLeish, runs Jan. 20-March 8 and opens Jan. 25, with a "Gala Opening" the following night. [The production is not connected to the David Henry Hwang version being prepped for RI's Trinity Rep in February.]
Co-starring with Acton are Emery Battis, Trazana Beverly, Roy Cockrum, Jimonn Cole, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Edward Gero, Eric Hoffmann, Floyd King, Carol Monda, Jewell Robinson, David Sabin, Kate Skinner, Ted van Griethuysen, Craig Wallace and Rebecca Waxman. Designing the show are Ming Cho Lee (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes) and Howell Binkley (lighting), with Louis Rosen providing original music.
Interviewed in the Shakespeare Theatre's in-house publication, "Asides," director Kahn described Peer Gynt thus: "For people who know Ibsen from A Doll's House and Ghosts, this is an incredibly different Ibsen. This is an incredibly free form he is working with... [The author] is interested...in where his imagination takes him. The play is a huge journey...and it has social criticism, it has farce, it has theatrical and scenic imagination, and it has psychology."
Actor Acton told the same magazine, "My experience when I saw Peer in London in 1990 was that it was a fascinating yarn I enjoyed sitting through, but it did not move me, and I did not find myself feeling much of anything except a slight disdain for the stupidity of the main character. So my goal is to find...the empathy bridge between me and the audience. They don't have to like the character...but I want them to understand the character." *
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, with an official opening May 31 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. 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