Lynda Gravátt and Nathalie Nicole Pauldingin The Member of the Wedding(Photo © Stan Barouh)
Lynda Gravátt and Nathalie Nicole Paulding
in The Member of the Wedding
(Photo © Stan Barouh)
With most of the major theater companies continuing runs of productions that opened in January, theater openings for February mostly spotlight familiar fare, the onstage equivalent of comfort food during the coldest, greyest and most snow-prone of the winter months here. Audiences will savor old favorites with a theater calendar that offers a pause between the adventures of January, when a spate of world premieres dominated the theater scene, and a return to the usual mix of old and new coming with the early spring winds of March.

The highlight of February is Broadway legend Julie Harris' expected attendance opening night for The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers's much-loved and critically acclaimed coming-of-age drama, at Ford's Theatre on February 9. Previews for the short run begin February 4 and the show will continue to February 27.

A five-time Tony Award winner, Ms. Harris first earned widespread critical acclaim for her 1950-51 Broadway (and later film) performance in this play, which McCullers based on her 1946 novel. The drama focuses on Frankie Adams, Harris' role, a bored 12-year-old who seeks a sense of belonging and hopes to escape her little town with her brother and his fiancée. But first, she languishes through a long, hot summer in the company of African-American housekeeper Berenice. Tony Award winner Marshall W. Mason directs Lynda Gravátt as Berenice, the role made famous by Ethel Waters, and Nathalie Nicole Paulding plays Frankie. Ms. Gravátt received a 2004 Helen Hayes Award for her performance in Crowns at Arena Stage, while Ms. Paulding starred in the title role of the Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

If the past is any guide, one of the most successful shows at luring patrons out of their cozy homes this month may be The All Night Strut!, which Alexandria's MetroStage opens on February 10. This 1979 Off-Broadway show celebrates music and dance of the '30s and '40s, including jazz, blues, bebop, and classic song standards by many of the legendary names of the Great American Songbook, such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, Fats Waller, and others.

MetroStage has had considerable success mounting similar musicals and revues in between the contemporary dramas and edgy comedies by emerging playwrights that are at the core of the company's mission. The cast for this one includes MetroStage favorite William Hubbard, who co-starred in their popular production of Mahalia last year. Hubbard also wrote the score and performed for two original MetroStage musicals that received Helen Hayes nominations for Best New Musical in 2003, Harlem Rose and Three Sistahs. Those shows were written and directed by Thomas W. Jones II, who directs All Night Strut.

Speaking of being out of cozy homes, Keegan Theatre is unexpectedly homeless just a few months after signing on as the resident theater company of Alexandria's Old Town Theatre. Neither party will comment on the cause of the split, and legal machinations are apparently grinding away, but the show, in this case John Millington Synge's classic, The Playboy of the Western World, will go on, according to Mark A. Rhea, Keegan's founder and producing artistic director.

"It was a truly devastating and surprising blow," Rhea stated. "The timing of this whole ordeal put Playboy in peril. Rehearsals and pre-production were already well underway when we learned about Old Town's intentions. After explaining our situation to the cast and crew, I gave them the opportunity to drop out, and not one person did. Their amazing dedication gave me even more drive and determination to find a home for Playboy."

That home will be a familiar one: DC's Church Street Theater, where Keegan mounted their very first production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Playboy of the Western World will run February 17 through March 19 as part of the "Washington Irish Arts Festival 2005." The play, based on a historical incident and focused on the reaction when a man wanders into a small Irish village declaring he has murdered his father, caused riots when it opened in Dublin in 1907. It is now regarded as the masterwork of one of the most highly regarded Irish playwrights in the modern age.

The Irish festival, in conjunction with the Embassy of Ireland, is also hosting the Washington premiere of Irish playwright Martin McDonough's The Lonesome West. Scena Theatre is borrowing Keegan's Eric Lucas and Mark Rhea to play two brothers living alone in their father's house after his recent death. The show opens February 25 and will run through April 3 at Warehouse Theater.

Dipping into the classics is Rorschach Theatre, which opens "hot London fringe playwright" Phyllis Nagy's adaptation of Nathanial Hawthorne's exploration of sin and society, The Scarlet Letter for previews February 9. The troupe promises a "fresh retelling" of the tale, which continues to March 12.

Washington audiences seeking something newer have Pecan Tan, Tanya Barfield's comic visit with a dysfunctional black family at The H Street Playhouse, performed by African Continuum Theatre Company. Running February 4-27, it's a raucous comedy with serious undertones about racial attitudes when a man discovers he has a daughter he never knew about and his family deals with her arrival.

The Irish aren't the only ones getting showcases this month. Teatro de la Luna's VIII International Festival of Spanish Theater opens with a grand reception at the Embassy of Costa Rica on Wednesday, February 9, before moving to the Gunston Arts Center Theater II in Arlington. Troupes from Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Spain will perform through March 19. Plays are to be performed in Spanish, but many will have simultaneous English translation via headsets. And Gala Hispanic Theatre opens Federico García Lorca's Yerma February 17 at their new home, the refurbished Tivoli Theatre. The stormy tale of dueling passions, spirituality and honor runs through March 13, performed in Spanish with English supertitles.

The rest of the action this month is in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Fountainhead Theatre opens Oscar Wilde's dazzling blend of farce and morality, An Ideal Husband February 17 for a one month run at Theatre on the Run in Arlington, Olney Theatre fires up Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw February 23 through March 20 at Olney, and Columbia's Rep Stage opens Lillian's Hellman's drama The Children's Hour February 25th for a three-week run.