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Washington, D.C. Spotlight: October 2004

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Leslie Uggams in On Golden Pond
(Photo © Scott Suchman)
After a sputtering start in September, the fall theater season across the Washington, DC area hits its stride in October and most major companies are getting plays and musicals up on their boards. The show is definitely going on at the Kennedy Center, which recovered quickly when an injury-plagued Diahann Carroll withdrew from a special engagement of On Golden Pond, co-starring James Earl Jones, less than a week before it was scheduled to open. The 69-year old Tony Award-winning star (No Strings) apparently aggravated an old problem with a herniated disk and added severe muscle strain to her ailments while rehearsing the show in New York. Doctors sent her packing to home base in L.A. for rest.

With ticket sales brisk for the highly anticipated revival and with little opportunity to reschedule the production at the Eisenhower Theater, there was said to have been no discussion about canceling or postponing the show. Producer Jeffrey Finn, who had not ruled out tapping understudy Petronia Paley for the role, went looking for a replacement and almost immediately found Leslie Uggams, 61, who agreed to take on the role of Ethel, wife of Jones's Norman Thayer character in the poignant family drama.

Uggams, also a Tony winner (Hallelujah, Baby!), has had to learn the part on a "crash and burn" basis but members of the production company say she has been warmly received by a cast and crew thankful she is brave enough to step in at almost the last moment. Ernest Thompson's play centering on an aging couple and their troubled daughter is at the Eisenhower in the Kennedy Center for a short run, concluding October 17.

Theater aficionados are eager to see what kind of stamp new Producing Director Paul R. Tetreault will put on Ford's Theatre as it begins its first full season under his leadership this month with a production of Thornton Wilder's romantic farce, The Matchmaker. Tetrault took over after the death of Frankie Hewitt, who restored the theater that had been dark for a century and built into a regional showcase for theatrical Americana over her three decades as its leader.

Tetreault spent ten years as managing director of the acclaimed Alley Theatre in Houston before arriving in D.C. There he was known for attracting and developing talent while building the Alley into a top regional venue known for world premieres and collaborations as well as presentation of classic American drama. The Matchmaker, the romantic farce the musical Hello, Dolly is based upon, hardly seems cutting edge, but Tetreault did bring in a top director, Mark Lamos, a Tony nominee (Our Country's Good) fresh from this past summer's Cat On a Hot Tin Roof at the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams Festival. Tony Award-winning comic actress Andrea Martin (My Favorite Year) and Jonathan Hadary -- who was nominated but did not win a Tony for his appearance in the Tyne Daly revival of Gypsy -- star in the show, which insiders say is a bit more lavishly produced than typical Ford's productions.

There will be new material for theatergoers, with Signature Theatre premiering The Highest Yellow late in the month. It's a musical from five-time Tony-nominated composer/lyricist Michael John LaChiusa (First Lady Suite, The Wild Party) and Helen Hayes Award-winning writer John Strand (Lovers & Executioners, The Diaries). Eric Schaeffer will direct the production, the first musical commissioned by the theater company, about Vincent Van Gogh. As the subject matter might forewarn, the themes are madness, obsession and their relationship to art. Broadway favorite Judy Kuhn (She Loves Me, Chess) is one of the stars of the production, which opens October 26.

Alexandria's MetroStage opens its season with the U.S. premiere of Canadian playwright Sean Reycraft's One Good Marriage on the 21st. It's described as a "chilling yet darkly comic existential drama" about a couple celebrating their first wedding anniversary, bound together for life by a shared secret.

If you blink you might miss it, but Rorschach Theatre is offering a glimpse of Tony Kushner's current work-in-progress, a play called Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. The event will be a free reading October 25 as part of the troupe's Dario Fo Festival. The first act of the play places First Librarian Laura Bush in heaven, where she reads Dosteyevsky to Iraqi children killed by American bombs. A discussion about the role of theater in politics will follow the reading. Fo plays on the bill this month include A Tale of a Tiger and Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

Other openings of note in October include Rob Ackerman's comedy about advertising, Tabletop, at Round House Theatre's Silver Spring stage; Nilo Cruz's 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning play Anna in the Tropics opens at Arena Stage; Olney Theatre Center for the Arts revives Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit; and Charter Theatre debuts Rick Fiori's comic satire I'm In Love With the President.

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