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DC Metro Spotlight: January 2011

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Anna Deavere Smith
in Let Me Down Easy
(© Joan Marcus)
Arena Stage is keeping its brand new Mead Center for American Theater busy as 2011 debuts, opening new shows shortly after final curtains come down on their two sold-out inaugural productions in the glittering, new venue. Arena is launching the national tour of Let Me Down Easy (January 1 - February 13), the latest one-woman production from playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith, who portrays over 20 characters, drawn from interviews she conducted with over 300 people to explore " the resilience of the spirit, the price of care," as she puts it.

Arena's Fichandler Stage, meanwhile, is hosting The Arabian Nights (January 14 - February 20), written and directed by Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman. The story is set in ancient Baghdad, when a courageous young girl postpones her execution by weaving magical tales. And even Arena's new Kogod Cradle space is open for business, staging a New Play Festival (January 17-30) that features works from seven playwrights.

Not to be outdone, Shakespeare Theatre Company is juggling multiple productions as well. Cymbeline (January 18 - March 6) will be at the company's Lansburgh Theatre, the first time the company has tackled the story of love between Princess Imogen and the commoner Posthumus. Reminiscent of fairy tales, the play ponders romance tested by a wicked queen and a vengeful king. The international hit production Black Watch (January 26 -February 6), with its unique perspective on the war in Iraq, makes its first stop on an American tour at the Shakespeare's Sidney Harman Hall. Produced by National Theatre of Scotland, it's the winner of four Laurence Olivier Awards, and is based on interviews with soldiers who served in Iraq. Mixing in movement and music, it offers the view of those on the ground in the legendary Black Watch Scottish regiment.

It's a twin bill at Studio Theatre, too, with Marcus; Or the Secret of Sweet (January 5 - February 13) in the Mead Theatre and Tynan (January 19 - February 6) in the Metheny Theatre. Marcus is the final chapter of the Brother/Sister Plays trilogy from Tarell Alvin McCraney. Past and present collide in the sultry Louisiana heat in this whimsical story of a young boy becoming a man and discovering his sexuality. In Tynan, local stage veteran Philip Goodwin takes on the role of Kenneth Tynan, one of the most influential and feared theater critics of the last century. Based on the critic's own diaries, the play revels in his razor-sharp observations, as well as his own scandalous affairs.

A gentler style of writing comes from the late Horton Foote, whose poignant The Carpetbagger's Children (January 21 - February 13) is at Ford's Theatre this month. Three of DC's top actors, Holly Twyford, Nancy Robinette, and Kimberly Schraf play the daughters of a Union soldier who moved south to Texas after the Civil War. Foote has crafted a series of vignettes exploring family secrets, small-town lives and private tragedies.

Keegan Theatre has a world premiere that also examines family life, this time through the prism of war. A Shadow of Honor (Church Street Theater, January 8-30) is from Virginia-based playwright Peter Coy and it takes us through several generations of the lives of two families affected by two wars. Another look at the effect of war comes from Israel's Cameri Theatre and Return to Haifa (January 15-30), the saga of Sa'id and Saffiyah, who return to the home they fled and learn the fate of the baby they left behind. It's performed in Hebrew with English sur-titles.

The American Century Theater is looking back to 1920 and Eugene O'Neill's first Pulitzer Prize winner, Beyond the Horizon (January 14 - February 12). This drama of an ill-fated love triangle is considered by many to represent a turning point in American theater from broad melodrama to more nuanced characters and stories. It's at Gunston Art Center's Theatre II in Arlington.

It's an area premiere of the comedy Magic by G.K. Chesterton (Undercroft Theatre, January 6-30) from Washington Stage Guild. Famed essayist G. K. Chesterton wrote this witty look at faith confronting reason at the urging of G. B. Shaw, and while it's quite popular in England, it has not been seen in the U.S. for decades.

Elsewhere around the area, Folger Theatre stages Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors (January 25 - March 6). Heritage Theatre Company in Silver Spring is mounting Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight (January 20 - February 19), the 1956 Peabody Award winning masterpiece about a washed-up boxer often called "the best sports drama ever written." Alexandria's MetroStage brings back powerhouse performer Bernardine Mitchell yet again for His Eye Is On the Sparrow (January 20 - March 13), a musical biography of actress/singer Ethel Waters. And Stomp (January 25-30) returns briefly to the Warner Theatre, which is promising a newly restructured version of the exuberant celebration of percussion.

Youngsters have a treat in store as African Continuum Theatre and Adventure Theatre team up for the world premiere of Mirandy and the Brother Wind (January 21 - March 13). Adapted from the Patrick McKissack children's book, the story is set in the early 1900s as an African-American girl tries to catch the wind to be her partner at a dance contest. It's at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland, January 21 - February 13 and at DC's Atlas Performing Arts Center February 25 - March 13.

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