If you’re a stage actor, what’s the second-best city in the United States to tread the boards? According to a 2018 survey by the prestigious Actors’ Equity Association, it’s Washington, D.C. (New York City is tops), with its 70-plus active companies and generally packed theatrical calendar. “There are organizations dedicated to Shakespeare and the classics, contemporary American playwrights ... new play development, theater for young audiences, musicals,” says Roy Gross, an association liaison for the nation’s capital. “If you want to do a particular type of work, chances are there is somewhere to do it.”
This month, there’s a particularly rich showcase of all those talented thespians, with both resident and visiting shows lighting up venues around town. Read on for just a few of our favorites.
The music of Billie Holiday powers the inventive, cabaret-style “Stormy Weather” from IN Series Theater at Atlas Performing Arts Center October 18-27. Inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” it uses the blues diva’s songs to tell the story of Sycorax, the mother of the Bard’s wild man Caliban. “The company has a new artistic director, Timothy Nelson, and he’s got dazzling ideas that he can carry off,” says Lorraine Trainor, the publisher and editor of DC Theatre Scene (www.dctheatrescene.com), a local theater website.
So Much Drama
A pair of revivals salutes the late playwright August Wilson, known for delving into African-American life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At Arena Stage through October 20, Wilson’s “Jitney” follows a group of cab drivers in the 1970s as they deal with gentrification and economic woes. And at historic Ford’s Theatre, the downtown playhouse where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Wilson’s “Fences” continues through October 27. Set in the 1950s, the work chronicles the dashed dreams and family life of a onetime Negro League baseball star.
Arlington’s Synetic Theater wins raves for its dazzling, wordless spins on classic tales like “Hamlet” and “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” which harness dance, music and Cirque du Soleil-like stagecraft. In its version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” through Oct. 20, a 1,200-square- foot pool serves as the watery set for a visually stunning dreamscape. “I always encourage visitors to go to Synetic, because its shows are so theatrical. They’re almost like films,” says Trainor. “It’s exciting and athletic, and even kids are engaged.”
At Bethesda, Maryland’s Round House Theatre through October 13, “School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play” transplants the 2004 movie into a female boarding school in 1980s Ghana. The poignant-yet-funny result—a big hit off Broadway—follows five girls as they tussle with issues of beauty, race and the Miss Universe pageant. Though Shakespeare’s “1 Henry IV” is technically called a history play, the plot about the titular young prince and his friendship with good-timing lout Falstaff comes off like a good-hearted dramedy. It’s staged at the Folger Theatre through October 13, where the Elizabethan-style digs alone (think a unicorn mural-decked ceiling and tiered wooden balconies) are worth the price of admission. In the adjacent Great Hall, the exhibit “A Monument to Shakespeare: The Architecture of the Folger Shakespeare Library” explains the design and vision of the 1932 building that houses the theater.
Opening October 15 at the acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, “Everybody” modernizes the 15th-century morality play “Everyman.” Though the source material reads grimly (it’s about death, guys), rising playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins turns the piece into a musing on mortality with witty, laugh-provoking results.