Theater Briefs: What’s on Stage this Season
‘Ann’: An Original Played by an Original
I thought I knew Holland Taylor.
She was a lawyer, a judge, a WASP, somebody who drank martinis and complained if they weren’t done right, an East Coaster, main liner, bossy, Charlie Sheen’s mother in his unreal life, the kind of upper crusty, attractive woman around whom you tried to hide your minuscule repertoire of good manners. She had been all those things in acting roles on Broadway, in movies and big and little hit television series. Talking to Taylor on the phone, I allowed that I had read her resume and felt like I should be a little scared. She laughed. “Maybe you should,” she said.
Actually, what really impressed me was what she was doing now, the reason we were talking at all. Ann Richards.
If you should ever be in awe of or be intimidated by a woman you’d never met, it would have been Ann Richards, the late and former governor of Texas before it turned into a puddle of Bushes and Perrys. Ann Richards, a liberal icon who once taunted Bush senior for having been born with a “silver foot in his mouth,” a woman with an elongated white hairdo who thrived as a Texan politician, who was famous for her straight talk, compassion, and the kind of sense of humor which let her play with the big boys sometimes with one hand tied behind her back. People I admired — the creators of the “Tuna” plays, the acerbic Texas political writer, the late Molly Ivins, who would always refer to Bush II as “shrub” loved Ann Richards unto death.
And here was Holland Taylor, as far removed from shrubs and bushes, and Amarillo and Armadillos as you can be, starring in “Ann,” in which she was not only the star but the author. “It is very, very different from anything that I’ve ever attempted,” Taylor said. “And it’s strange, you know, I met her exactly once, over lunch in New York, and she was the kind of woman, the kind of person, who haunts you, she’s so impressive.
In 2006, Richards was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and died that same year and that was probably when Taylor first started thinking about a work about Richards. “She was an original, she affected so many people, she was funny, she helped others, and there was nobody, nobody like here,” Taylor said. “So, I spent a lot of time researching, I spent some time in Austin and Texas, and, eventually, it and we came to life and here we are.”
For my money, it takes an original to play an original. Taylor was always a fine actress, especially on stage but also in soaps, television series and films, always, it seemed, playing strong-minded women of one sort or another but never in the same way. When she finally won an Emmy for playing “a rapacious judge” on David Kelley’s hit series “The Practice,” she gave an unforgettable speech in which she thanked Kelley for “giving me a chariot to ride up here on: A woman who puts a flag on the moon for women over 40 — who can think, who can work, who are successes and who can COOK!”
We don’t know about the cooking part, but that could be Ann Richards. That could be Holland Taylor. “Ann,” written and performed by Holland Taylor, will be performed at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, Dec. 17 through Jan. 15.
. . . And the Music of ‘Billy Elliott’
There’s more than Ann and Holland at the Kennedy Center. There’s a kid named Billy Elliott.
“Billy Elliott the Musical” isn’t about Christmas but may warm up some hearts anyway, and it’s bound to please. This Broadway smash — 10 Tonys — is based on a critically acclaimed film in which one Billy Elliott, a would-be-kid boxer, stumbles into a ballet class and changes his life and that of everyone around him. The show features music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, choreography by Peter Darling and direction by Stephen Daldry.
“Bill Elliott the Musical” runs Jan.15 at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.
Romeo, I Can’t Hear You
And of course, there’s the eternal Shakespeare play of “star-crossed lovers,” Romeo and Juliet. “Romeo, Romeo Wherefore Art Thou?”
At the Synetic Theater in Crystal City, Romeo’s not saying. Synetic, as we all know, is the great beyond-category theater company where words — even and especially Shakespearean words — are secondary. In Synetic’s unique acting style —combining movement, dance and mime— it’s not the rest that’s silence but everything. Synetic is in the midst of its Silent Shakespeare Festival, “Speak No More,” and its production of “Romeo and Juliet” had six Helen Hayes nominations and two Helen Hayes awards for outstanding director and ensemble.
This production runs through Dec. 23.
History Being Made and Acted at Arena Stage
At Arena Stage, history plays a big part in both Amy Freed’s “You, Nero” and Bill Cain’s “Equivocation.” The latter concerns Shakespeare, the infamous Gunpowder Plot and the relationship between artists and kings. It comes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Cain’s play will run through Jan. 1 with the cast of the original Oregon Shakespeare Festival production.
“You, Nero” is part of Arena’s American Voices New Play Institute, with Freed continuing to work on a play which first opened at South Coast Rep and Berkeley Rep in 2009. Making its D.C. debut, it runs through Jan. 1. Danny Scheie stars as Nero, an emperor who may have been the first emperor-as-public-celebrity.
Off the Beaten Track at the Studio
If you’re in the mood for something in a completely non-holiday spirit and different, head over to the Studio Theater where there’s still time to see Lauren Weedman, a correspondent on the Daily Show who brings “Bust” her acidic, tough and funny autobiographical one-woman show about her experience as a volunteer advocate in a Southern California prison for women to Studio’s Stage 4 through Dec. 18.
Spoiler Alert: Second City is Back
For something perhaps a little more fun but still dark, there’s the wonderfully titled “Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies,” whereby Chicago’s famed comedy troupe Second City returns to Woolly Mammoth Theater in a collaboration with D.C. artists, including actors Jessica Frances Dukes, and Aaron Bliden and designer Colin K. Bills. Here’s the way the press release describes the proceedings: “the most gleeful anti-holiday celebration of doom ever”.
God bless us every one.
(Dec. 6 through Jan. 8).