Oscar Wilde And `Lion King'

`The Lion King' hits the Hippodrome in June


September 02, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It'll be a season of art, spectacle and Oscar Wilde on area stages in 2004-2005.

Center Stage opens with Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde's comic look at Victorian mores, marriage and motherhood, directed by Irene Lewis. Coincidentally, Washington's Shakespeare Theatre will close its season with a production of the same Wilde comedy, starring Dixie Carter and directed by Keith Baxter.

In between these two, Arena Stage in Washington will mount the playwright's best-known work, The Importance of Being Earnest. Under the direction of Everett Quinton, a veteran of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, this promises to be a truly wild Wilde experience.

Center Stage will also be part of another apparent trend this season -- plays about art. In March, the theater will produce the Baltimore premiere of Thomas Gibbons' Permanent Collection, a play inspired by the controversial appointment of an African-American director of Pennsylvania's Barnes Collection.

In addition, art will be a hot topic at Signature Theatre, the small Arlington, Va., theater that has gained a national reputation for its interpretations of the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, as well as John Kander and Fred Ebb. Next month, Signature will mount the premiere of The Highest Yellow (music by Michael John LaChiusa, book by John Strand), a musical about a romantic triangle involving Vincent van Gogh, a young doctor who treated him and a prostitute. Broadway veterans Jason Danieley and Judy Kuhn star.

In March, Signature returns to the art world with the area premiere of Ten Unknowns, Jon Robin Baitz's account of an over-the-hill painter whose career undergoes a sudden upswing of interest.

Even a community theater, the Audrey Herman Spotlighters, will get in on the art act. Avery Crozier's Eat the Runt, opening next week, focuses on an applicant for a position at a museum. The show has a gimmick -- at each performance, the audience decides which actor will play which role.

Thanks to the renovated Hippodrome Theatre, audiences will see larger shows than have ever been presented on a Baltimore stage. The current production of The Phantom of the Opera has set the benchmark, which will be met -- if not surpassed -- when The Lion King caps the season in June.

Finally, two shows with impressive British provenances can be expected to make waves in 2004-2005. This winter, Center Stage will produce the American debut of Elmina's Kitchen, a play for which its author, Kwame Kwei-Armah, was named "most promising playwright" by Britain's 2003 Evening Standard Awards. Originally staged by London's Royal National Theatre, the drama focuses on a West Indian family's legacy of violence.

And, one of the season's most anticipated theatrical events will be the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Euripides' Hecuba, starring Vanessa Redgrave and coming to Washington's Kennedy Center in May. Marking the Tony- and Academy Award-winning actress' return to the Royal Shakespeare Company after an absence of more than four decades, the production is expected to transfer to the Brooklyn Academy of Music after its Washington run.

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