Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Due to some writing deadlines and participating in a conference that took me to Baltimore and DC, I'm afraid that I've neglected posting here.

My visit back east reacquainted me with frigid weather and snow, which was shockingly refreshing.

It also enabled me to attend performances at two highly regarded theatres whose work I knew of but had never seen previously: Centerstage and Theatre J.

Centerstage is one of the Ur-theatres of the American regional theatre movement, founded in 1963 and led for about 40 years by Peter Culman, now retired, who gained respect as one of the most skilled managers in the nation. They were just closing a production of August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," which I was able to get in to see (along with my niece Daria, a freshman at Binghamton University). I had seen its original staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference twenty years ago, which featured Charles ("Roc") Dutton, fresh from his triumph as Levee in Wilson's first major production at Yale Rep, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." But "Joe Turner..." is a less-produced work of Wilson's, and I never saw a full production of it until now. It possesses some of the raw genius of his writing, while showing some of the "seams" of a playwright still learning his craft. Centerstage did an admirable job of making it work. The performance I attended was sold out which, I later learned, is typical of August Wilson plays produced there.

My friend Ari Roth, whom I'd met previously but became better acquainted with during the recent IsraDrama festival in Tel Aviv, is artistic director of Theatre J in DC. We had the chance to chat, grab a bite of dinner with his young daughter Sophie, and he treated me to see his current production "Schlemiel the First" by Robert Brustein. This was an utterly delightful Klezmerized compendium of tales about the wise men of Chelm, the legendary shtetl in Eastern Europe populated entirely by fools. Silly fun, it was nonetheless quite a slick production. When I mentioned this to my mother, she reminded me that she had actually performed on that stage in 1943 in "Night Must Fall." Theatre J is located at the DC Jewish Community Center on 16th Street NW, a few blocks from DuPont Circle, and is one of the largest Jewish-themed theatre companies in America.

I also took a quick swing by the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, just across the river. It is located in a stunning new village complext of housing, retail, dining and the public library, and boasts two theatre spaces for its mostly musical theatre fare. Eric Schaeffer, who co-founded the company 17 years ago, remains its artistic director and has won kudos as a director of musicals, including on Broadway. They've become one of the most important theatres in the DC area, and now have a facility that matches in quality the work they put on stage.

In prior visits to DC, I've been to Arena Stage (now undergoing its own physical transformation), Studio Theatre (a daring company with multiple stages located near Theatre J) and the Kennedy Center, but DC and environs is teeming with great theatre. Many believe it is America's second city in theatre (though Chicagoans argue the contrary).

Until next time...


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