Royal Shakespeare coming to Kennedy

Theater

March 07, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The Royal Shakespeare Company will begin a five-year residency at Washington's Kennedy Center next season.

The partnership will bring one new production to Washington each year, beginning in April 2003. Although a specific play has not been chosen for the coming season, King Lear, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet will each be produced over the five years.

A $250,000 gift from the Prince of Wales Foundation launched the residency, and Prince Charles, who serves as president of the Royal Shakespeare Company board, issued a statement saying, "Washington is in for a real treat, and I am delighted that over the next five years you will have regular opportunities to see just what my favorite theatre company has to offer."

The Royal Shakespeare Company is hardly a stranger to the Kennedy Center. The renowned British company has performed there frequently over the past three decades, beginning with Peter Brook's famed interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1973. Most recently, the company presented five plays in 1998, including Hamlet, Henry VIII and Cymbeline.

The Shakespeare partnership was unveiled this week during an announcement of the 2002-2003 Kennedy Center season by Center president Michael M. Kaiser. Other distinctive presentations will include concert versions of Babes in Arms and Carmen Jones.

Here's the full lineup, which will begin with the final installment of the Sondheim Celebration - a Japanese production of Pacific Overtures:

Pacific Overtures (Sept. 3-8): The New National Theatre of Japan's production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's 1976 musical about the opening of Japan to Western trade.

Medea (Nov. 7-9): The Abbey National Theatre of Ireland's production of Euripides' tragedy starring Fiona Shaw (part of the Center's Something New series).

Carmen Jones (Nov. 15-17) A concert version of Oscar Hammerstein II's adaptation of Bizet's opera. Placido Domingo conducts the National Symphony Orchestra, with staging augmented by Debbie Allen and a cast that includes Vanessa Williams, Harolyn Blackwell and the Harlem Boys Choir.

Babes in Arms (Nov. 21-24): A concert version of Rodgers and Hart's 1937 musical, newly adapted by John Guare, about a group of vaudevillians' children who stage a show to avoid being sent to a work farm.

Tell Me on a Sunday (Dec. 17-Jan. 12): A new full-length version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1982 musical about the arrival of a young British woman in New York. The show was originally the first half of Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance.

Stones in His Pocket (Feb. 4-March 2): Marie Jones' two-actor play about an Irish village that becomes the site for a Hollywood movie. Director Ian McElhinney re-creates his London and Broadway staging.

The Royal Shakespeare Company (April 21-May 18): Inaugural production (to be announced) of a five-year residency.

The Reducers (July 3-Aug. 31): The Reduced Shakespeare Company returns to the Center with an abridged look at literature through the ages.

In addition, a yet-to-be-announced large-scale musical will be presented in summer 2003, and that August the interactive comic mystery Shear Madness celebrates its 15th anniversary at the Kennedy Center.

For information about subscriptions or single tickets to the 2002-2003 season, call 1-800-444-1324 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

`Stop Kiss' at AXIS

Imagine the peak of joy and the depth of despair happening simultaneously.

That's the situation in Diana Son's play Stop Kiss, which is receiving a sensitive local premiere at AXIS Theatre, under Susan Lev's direction.

The plot focuses on two women, Callie (Lynda Berge), a New York traffic reporter for a radio station, and Sara (Dahlia Kaminsky), who moves to New York from the Midwest to teach third grade in the Bronx.

Although both women have had past heterosexual relationships, they are attracted to each other almost immediately. From the beginning, they are so simpatico, they fill in each other's sentences. There's an easy, cheerful rapport between them, which Berge and Kaminsky ably convey.

But Callie is reluctant to demonstrate her feelings, and that makes the interaction between the women both frustrating and charged.

Stop Kiss is hardly a simple love story. Playwright Son intersperses scenes of the budding relationship - which turns out to be told in flashback - with scenes of the aftermath of a brutal attack that lands Sara in the hospital. (This isn't giving too much away; the attack is revealed in the second scene.)

The play's structure builds audience interest in the intertwined stories of Sara's fate and the progress of the relationship. Although the scene changes at AXIS could be swifter, the shifts between present trauma and past pleasure add tension to the drama. And, because the assault attracts major media coverage, the interspersed scenes serve as a constant reminder of how swiftly private lives can slip into a public context.

Michael Himelfarb and Wayne Willinger are fine as the men in Callie and Sara's lives, but Bethany Brown and Michael Owen Butscher are a bit too strident in other supporting roles.

Callie owns a Magic Eight Ball, which keeps getting stuck between two answers - a symbol of the character's indecisiveness. Sad without being maudlin, Stop Kiss is about conquering indecisiveness, making a commitment and, even when the chips are down -especially when the chips are down - choosing love.

Show times at AXIS, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 30. Tickets are $12 and $15. Call 410-243-5237.

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