What? You’re back? So nice of you! You could easily have slipped out during the intermission between the portion of my Smithsonian oration posted yesterday and the one posted today. No guard would have stopped you, and I, being unknowing, would not have been offended. And yet here you are! I am pleased and flattered.
A friend of mine, an habitué of these Smithsonian gatherings, warned me against taking note if people walked out. He was at one, years ago, when people began to slip out on the superjournalist Jimmy Breslin as he got overlong. “I’m not done!” Breslin cried as they left. “We are,” they replied. And then Breslin and the audience got into one of those robust dialogues people talk about having all the time. It was not to Breslin’s advantage.
So when people walked out on me last week — there were a few, who had the grace to be inconspicuous about it — I, remembering Breslin, took no notice of it. I know that Washington is an important town, and in it, the most important go to the Smithsonian to hear people like me talk. They had doubtlessly been called away to handle the Dow crisis. Or perhaps they were running for President. It was all good.
But you’re here, and I thank you. Here are some (not all!) of the musicals and comedies I’m looking forward to this coming season.
The DC metro area is awash in musicals, led by Signature Theatre, which is once again giving us a boatload of them and some interesting new work. But let’s take a look at some of the musicals that aren’t playing at Signature this season.
One that I’m particularly looking forward to is NextStop’s City of Angels, which is opening next May. This show is so pleasantly bizarre, so absurdly meta that you can get a little dizzy thinking about it. A famous detective-story writer has been commissioned to write his first movie. He falls for a beautiful woman. Unfortunately, his most important character does too. So the writer and his creation fight it out, much like Frankenstein and his monster did, except in City of Angels the fight is in rhyme and song — including these classic lines, sung by the writer to the written:
“You’re nothing without me/A no-one who’d go undefined/You wouldn’t exist/You’d never be missed/ I tell you you’re out of my mind.”
Remember Moises Kaufman? The Laramie Project? He’s got a musical playing in the D.C. Area this year — Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Musical…a redoing of the classic Bizet opera, starring Karen Olivo, of Broadway’s In the Heights fame. It’ll be at Olney in February. If you haven’t been there, Olney Theatre is a big, rambling, beautiful space with three theaters and a ton of acreage. It’s fun to just sit out their patio…though not in February.
Sometimes people ask about Broadway tours. They usually come into the National, the Warner, or the Kennedy Center. This is also true this year, when we have Kinky Boots, with songs by Cyndi Lauper, coming to the Kennedy Center in June.
Finally, every musical lover should have a visit from an old friend, and the old friend this year will be 110 in the Shade, which will run at Ford’s Theatre in March. 110, as you may remember, is a story about a con man who promises to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it — oh, I’m sorry. 110 is about a love- starved spinster and the con man who promises to bring rain to a drought-stricken town. Tracy Lynn Olivera will play the lonely spinster at Ford’s Theatre. Olivera is not lonely and not a spinster; she is a much-in-demand Washington actor with a golden voice, and we’re lucky to have her.
It’s a funny thing about comedy in theater. We like to giggle and snort at the movies but we expect something a little brainier in our stage comedy. I don’t think will ever see a stage version of Dumb and Dumber. I don’t know if we’re self-conscious because we’re in a classy place, or what it is, but we want our comedy to be big brain comedy. By and large. With exceptions.
So, nobody has a bigger brain than Tom Stoppard, who wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. We all know that. He can barely keep his head up, his brain is so big. And so in January the Shakespeare Theatre Company will do Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. OK, imagine this. You’re a critic, and you’re sitting in the audience of a whodunit, a sort of Agatha Christie thing. And you’re taking notes for your review. And at the same time you’re looking at the various clues and trying to figure out who the killer is. And as you look at the clues it becomes increasingly apparent that the killer is…you. And, believe me, your life kinda goes downhill from there.
Michael Kahn directs. Kahn is the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company and sort of the eminence grise of Washington theater. He’s been around a long time and he has had a tremendous influence on theater here. But how is he as a director?
Once, I sat in on a rehearsal for Tamburlaine, a Christopher Marlowe story with a massive cast and massive set pieces. In this production Tamburlaine was being played by the TV star Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine) and in this scene they were hauling him onstage on this huge wagon. And the wheel kept falling off, and everything was in chaos. So Kahn stops the action. He yells “Derek!” and this guy in the ensemble, way over stage left, looks up, startled. He didn’t know that Kahn knew his name.
“Take a step to the right next time,” Kahn instructs.
So they do the scene again, and Derek takes a step to the right, and it’s beautiful. I mean, the wheel still falls off. But the chaos is gone. And so that’s the kind of director Michael Kahn is. He’s a Jedi.
I’m going to tell you about two comedies I don’t know a whole lot about but which I’m prepared to recommend just on the basis of the people involved with them, and I know I’m leaving this category of comedy criminally undercovered.
Woolly Mammoth is doing a play called Women Laughing Alone with Salad next month, and I’m going to see it for two reasons: Kimberly Gilbert, about whom I’ll write more in a day or so, and playwright Sheila Callaghan. The play was inspired by a series of stock photos on the website The Hairpin. The photos were, you guessed it, of women, all model-beautiful, eating salad and laughing. The implication — that real women eat salad, and like it, and are beautiful as a result — is a colossal, hidden insult to women and men both, and Callaghan is precisely the sort of playwright who can bring that out. I don’t know if that’s what this play will do but I do know that Callaghan the playwright has the skills to do it if she wants.
I don’t know much about The Good Devil (In Spite of Himself) other than that Mario Baldessari wrote it, along with Tyler Herman, and that it will be a commedia dell’arte story, based on history, about art and censorship, and that it’s being done by the fine company WSC Avant Bard at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington next June. But I do know that Baldessari is one of the most underproduced playwrights in Washington, and his name on a script probably means that I’m going to enjoy myself.
You’d think I’d get a break after all that speechifying, and possibly a small meal or some gazpacho or something. No such luck. But you will get a small break. Tomorrow I will start up on the dramas.
It’s your turn. What musicals and comedies are on your don’t-miss list?
Find the list at
DCTS’s guide to the 2015-2016 season