D.C. theater gets fest-ive

Albee, Walsh are centerpieces of area legit festivals

If there’s any doubt that Washington, D.C. has evolved into a serious theater town, two projects with divergent aims should put that to rest: The Arena Stage is presenting a festival devoted to the works of playwright Edward Albee that includes two full productions and staged readings of all other Albee plays. Across town at the Studio Theater, a three-play festival is under way to celebrate rising Irish playwright Enda Walsh.

There’s a major difference in the motives behind each festival. For Arena, the Albee celebration continues the introduction of its newly remodeled facility on the D.C. waterfront and its devotion to American plays and musicals. By contrast, the Walsh jubilee signals Studio’s renewed interest in foreign plays and playwrights under a.d. David Muse, who assumed the reins from Studio founder Joy Zinoman this season.

The Arena event reps the first time Albee’s entire 30-play canon has been presented at a single affair. It is also showcases the theater’s renewed mandate to embrace members of the legit community.

Coming on the heels of an SRO confab of artistic directors and playwrights from around the country, the Albee event debuted with Steppenwolf Theater’s celebrated production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The other production is Arena’s own mounting, directed by Mary B. Robinson, of “At Home at the Zoo,” Albee’s 50 year-old one-act “The Zoo Story” plus a newer first act.

The free Albee readings are being staged by D.C. area troupes that include Woolly Mammoth, the Shakespeare Theater, Round House and Taffety Punk.

Though Walsh, who is half Albee’s age, is a relative unknown here, aud interest has been promising for the Studio fest. The org extended “The Walworth Farce” two weeks before its April 6 opening.

Studio selected an artist whose quirky plays such as “Penelope,” “The New Electric Ballroom” and “Walworth Farce” have received only a smattering of productions in the U.S. and have yet to land on Broadway. The D.C. theater is presenting those three works over a two-month period, beginning with a production of “Penelope” mounted by Galway’s Druid Theater.

The program, including a symposium and free readings of other Walsh works, marks the initial step in Muse’s new focus on writers and international work, a slant that also was evident in the theater’s recently announced 2011-12 season lineup.

Albee and Walsh were each on hand for the kick-off of their respective fests. Ever the curmudgeon, Albee thanked Arena for the tribute during a private fundraiser while suggesting that the sound of snoring might compete with the readings.

The playwright also defended his insistence on approving performers and directors of his works when mounted by professional theaters, and decried the “forces of darkness” in commercial theater who invariably press for script changes. He assured that more plays are forthcoming, including, hopefully, one targeted for Broadway early next year.

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