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New and Noteworthy


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CurtainUp/DC/ New & Noteworthy, April 2015 by Susan Davidson

At the end of the performance of Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye -- The Farewell Tour, which ended in Washington at the end of April, Dame Edna's alter ego, Barry Humphries, appeared on stage out of drag, sans the wisteria-colored wig, cat's eyes eyeglasses, and hideously gaudy costume. "You've been a marvellous audience," he said to the packed house still standing, laughing and applauding, "but you must promise me one thing: that you will come to my next farewell tour."

Sixty years ago, while touring small towns in his native Australia with a group of actors, Humphreys created the character of an average Australian housewife to alleviate the boredom of being on the road. That is how Dame Edna was born and she has been on the road ever since. Her particular brand of satire -- sending up convention, prudery and fashion with quick-witted ad libs and insults, outrageous innuendo, and audience participation -- is reminiscent of English pantomime and music hall. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but Dame Edna has had a huge following for decades. Fans wait for what they know is coming -- the humiliation of audience members, the double entendres, high flying gladioli and being called Possums, considered by the Dame to be a term of endearment.

Humphreys, now 81 years old, has retired before. His First Last Tour was in 2009. He announced his retirement again in 2012 only to appear the following year in Australia and the UK. And now the Glorious Goodbye. Or is it? Fortunately, his quips, interviews etc. live on thanks to social media. I recommend them highly.

The 2015 Helen Hayes Awards, now doubled in number since the categories were changed to reflect the ratio of equity (Helens) to non-equity (Hayes) actors in one production were awarded April 6, 2015. The venue for the ceremony, the Lincoln Theater on U Street, NW, built in 1922, and the after party held at the Howard Theater, built in 1910, around the corner on T Street, NW, are important to Washington's theater history. Both theaters and many others no longer standing were known as the Black Broadway, hot spots where such jazz greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong and others performed regularly. For a list of Helen Hayes nominees and winners, go to www.theatrewashington.org.

There's a charming, small exhibit at the Library of Congress that will appeal to many theater, opera and ballet artists and their audiences. "Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design," can be seen online at www.loc.gov/exhibits and in the Library's Performing Arts Reading Room of the James Madison Building, at 101 Independence Avenue, SE, through July 25. On display are sketches for sets and costumes dating from a 1668 engraving for an opera performed in Vienna (the one in Austria, not Northern Virginia), designs for the Ballets Russes/Ballest Russes de Monte Carlo; posters from the Federal Theatre Project, and designs by the brilliant Boris Aronson, Oliver Smith and Tony Walton. Admission to the Library is free.

If tickets to the Broadway production of Skylight are out of reach, I recommend highly the filmed version with the same actors -- Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan -- that is now making the rounds at selected movie theaters. For dates and venues of screenings, go to ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/production. And while you are there, please take a look at the schedule for A View From the Bridge with Martin Strong, whose performance is nothing short of magnificent.

Back to Washington: according to theatreWashington, there are now 84 theaters in and around the area. Some produce only a few shows per season; others, many more. For up-to-date data on what's on , go to www.theatreWashington.org.

The well established, larger companies have announced their 2015/2016 season. Here are the links:
Arena Stage: http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/index-15-16.shtml
Kennedy Center: www.kennedy-center.org/programs/newseason
Shakespeare Theatre: www.shakespearetheatre.org/info/tickets/next-season
Signature: www.signature-theatre.org/newseason
Studio: www.studiotheatre.org/about/season-announcement
Woolly Mammoth: www.woollymammoth.net/2015-2016-season

The Helen Hayes Organization's
Interactive List of
DC Theaters


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©Copyright 2015, Elyse Sommer.
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