D.C.’s Staging a New Theater Scene
When Senior Editor Norie Quintos noticed a stack of ticket stubs piling up on her desk, she realized it was time to take another look at D.C.’s buzzing theater scene.
Washington, D.C., has always been a theater town to the cultural cognoscenti – an admittedly dedicated few – but a new crop of glam stages funded by infusions of cash from moneyed benefactors has finally awakened the average D.C. resident and suburbanites from neighboring Maryland and Virginia to the District’s theatrical offerings.
The list of new or expanded theaters is almost too long to name. The most ambitious project has been the Shakespeare Theatre‘s construction of an entirely new building and addition of a second performance venue (the sleek, glass-enclosed Harman Center). We already had the Folger on East Capitol Street. Who knew our little city of 580,000 could support three Shakespeare theaters? Having caught recent productions of Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew, I can tell you ye olde Bard has never been more relevant, and almost 400 years later seems to have no trouble packing the houses.
On the avant-garde side of the dramatic spectrum, the Woolly Mammoth
has a spiffy new home on D Street, in the heart of Penn Quarter, D.C.’s hottest neighborhood. It’s a far cry from the Woolly I knew in the late 80s when an apartment-mate plied me with free tickets to opening-night shows (actors do better when they’re playing to an audience, she explained). Back then, the theater consisted of folding metal chairs in a dark, rented warehouse in a marginal neighborhood (the now-hip 14th Street). The Woolly today boasts a chi-chi café serving wine by the glass, SmartWater, and organic cookies. There’s a little shop selling black tees printed with the museum’s mantra, “Defy convention,” along with plush woolly mammoth toys. Hmmm…Can a theater that sells stuffed animals still be called cutting-edge?
But don’t be distracted by the conventional trappings, as the stuff on stage is deliciously different. I caught a jewel-in-the-rough modernized version of As You Like It there last year (Shakespeare, again), and a frenzied One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, a laugh-out-loud for Luke and Leia fanatics. This is not normally a theater-going group, but it’s exactly this type of audience from which the Woolly gets converts.
In other news, the Gala Hispanic Theater is in a new-old space, the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights; so is the Atlas Performing Arts Center, housed in a renovated 1938 movie house and anchoring the urban revival in the eastern edge of H Street, N.E. The all-American Arena Stage is moving to Virginia for the next two years while its D.C.
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Waterfront location is being expanded. The Washington Stage Guild is readying to move into its new space near the Spy Museum. Even the venerable Ford’s Theatre (site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination) is getting comfy new seats and a spacious lobby in time for Abe’s 200th birthday in February.
And that’s just within the District limits.
Photos: The Harman Center, above, courtesyThe Shakespeare Theatre; The Unmentionables, below, courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company by Stan Barouh