WASHINGTON — The Woolly Mammoth Theater Company’s 25-year nomadic existence is finally over. The company known for its wacky and offbeat plays has moved into the trendiest of D.C. neighborhoods and a facility that is not only presentable but, dare we say, downright establishment?
Well, not entirely. Funky is an appropriate word for the org’s spartan new home in the basement of a multi-use property at 7th and D Streets. N.W., just off Pennsylvania Ave. The 30,000-square-foot space includes a comfortable 265-seat house modeled after London’s Tricycle Theater and the Cottesloe Theater at the National. There are offices, a scene shop, classroom, rehearsal hall and a three-tiered lobby with decor featuring the rawness of unfinished concrete and exposed joints.
The theater was designed by Theater Projects Consultants, which also designed the Tricycle. Other spaces were created by Bethesda, Md.-based architect Mark McInturff, who clearly sought to underscore the organization’s iconoclastic image with his bare-bones treatment.
“We hope to become a beacon for every weird, oddball theater company in the U.S. today,” says co-founder and artistic director Howard Shalwitz at its unveiling May 12, an event attended by Mayor Anthony Williams and other luminaries. (Fittingly, the new building’s fire alarm squawked throughout the event.)
The project began seven years ago with a request for proposals by the federal government’s General Services Administration for a mixed-use building with a live theater. The city anted up $2 million toward the $7.5 million project, part of a complex called the Jefferson at Penn Quarter. One-third of the necessary funding was contributed by Woolly’s own board of directors.
Its debut marks Woolly’s 25th anniversary and the endof performances at church halls and warehouses, as well as lost leases and other disappointments. In recent seasons, Woolly has played the Goldman Theater on 16th Street and the Kennedy Center’s American Film Institute Theater, a converted film house currently being redesigned for permanent live theater.
One thing certain not to change with the fancy address is Shalwitz’s proclivity for edgy plays from the likes of Craig Wright, Neena Beber, Don DeLillo, David Lindsay-Abaire, Nick Darke and others. “We take an off-kilter view of life and are stylistically and intellectually provocative, political and sexually adventurous,” he says.