Like spring crocuses peeking out of the melting snow, DC-area theaters are beginning to formulate a path back to their audiences, tentative but real. Shakespeare Theatre Company is among the first to do so, with a six-production portfolio – not quite a schedule, as dates have not been announced – of plays, some virtual, some in person under strict social-distancing protocols, and some both.
On the in person side will be the Donmar Warehouse production of Blindness, an immersive theater production for forty patrons at Harman Hall. Imagine a pandemic which causes blindness and you get the premise of the show, which will be done in darkness. There will be no actors on the stage. The audience will instead hear Juliet Stevenson’s recorded voice through headphones. Simon Stephens, who adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has put this show together from José Saramago’s novel.
STC kicks off its digital season, and its STC Digital program, with the world premiere of Patrick Page’s one-actor play All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain. Page, himself an expert theatrical villain (he played a memorable Claudius here, and on Broadway has played Scar, the Grinch, the Green Goblin and, in Hadestown, Hades) here takes on the roles of Macbeth, Iago and Claudius (among others) by way of showing us the evolution of Shakespeare’s villains – and our own. While any ticket holder will be able to see the play, STC Season subscribers will have an opportunity for a talkback session with Page.
“Juliet Stevenson purrs and seethes in our headphones: as the only sighted survivor, she records turmoil and violence when the afflicted turn against each other,” said the Guardian, “Ben and Max Ringham’s soundscape brilliantly conjures up spaciousness, movement and intimacy. Stevenson seems to prowl around the spectators; a lighter snaps on as if inside our heads.” Walter Meierjohann, who directed the show in London, will direct it here.
Tickets for both All The Devils Are Here and Blindness will become available on November 16.
Some time later – we’re not sure when – STC will present Ionesco’s The Chairs. This is a story about an old man and an old woman, setting up chairs so that the whole world, such as it is, can hear a lecture about the old man’s discovery. As the audience files in, the old man and the woman speak to them, but the remarkable thing about the audience is that it’s…invisible. Or maybe absent. Is this a post-apocalyptic world? Maybe. Is the old man’s discovery about the secret of existence? Maybe. Is there actually going to be a speaker? Maybe. Longtime STC Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul directs; this play will be available both in person and digitally.
OK, imagine this. It is 1833, and we are at London’s Royal Theatre. The greatest Shakespearean actor of his time, Edmund Kean, is playing Othello – in blackface, of course. Suddenly, Kean collapses on stage! Quick! Bring in the understudy! But…could this be the understudy? An actual Black actor – the American Ira Aldridge? In Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet, the response is electric: Britain was full of people – theater professionals, critics, and audience alike – who thought that by taking the stage Aldridge would bring about the end of civilization. Aldridge, who came to England because he knew he would never get a chance to act in America, responded with personal charisma and a gift for confabulation – at one point claiming, falsely, to have been born in Senegal. “Chakrabarti’s play is a fascinating character study of Aldridge, who it sees as an essentially tragic figure, a genius and proto-method actor who was hunted and haunted to his professional end and allowed no personal weakness,” said the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones in a somewhat mixed review. “And it serves as a reminder that there is nothing new about our conversations over casting and race.” Jade King Carroll directs.
DCTS Guide: The 2020-2021 DC Area Theatrical Season
STC will round out its season with two classics. In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the accusations of hysterical children, led by a manipulative teenager, induce a regional psychosis which results in the deaths of dozens of innocent people. Does this have a contemporary resonance? It certainly did for Miller when he wrote it, and it does for director Whitney White, who directed The Amen Corner B.C. (Before Covid). “She has an ambitious plan for this production,” says STC Artistic Director Simon Godwin. “Whitney is going to revitalize Miller’s political drama for our times.”
And Godwin himself will be helming As You Like It, the Bard’s magical voyage to the Forest of Arden. You remember As You Like It: The brawling de Boys; ancient Adam; the wrestling match; the Good Duke and the Bad Duke; the forbidden passion of Orlando and Rosalind; love poems posted on trees; melancholy Jacques; “all the world’s a stage”; girls disguised as boys – the whole nine yards. Godwin calls it “one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies, an escape from the politics of the court into a green world of wonder, love, and family reunions.”
The Chairs, Red Velvet, The Crucible and As You Like It will be available both digitally and in (socially distanced) person.
While individual tickets are not yet available, you can get a season ticket by going here.
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