What’s on Stage

What’s on Stage

A look at some of the top productions coming to the Bethesda area this spring

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The Bethesda area offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the performing arts, and recent management changes at several venues promise fresh approaches and exciting premieres for the spring season.

The Olney Theatre Center, now celebrating its 75th season, hoped to have a new artistic director early this year after losing Martin Platt just seven months into his tenure.

Theater officials say they are “especially proud” to offer the productions selected by Platt, an international director and producer who had focused on attracting a younger audience and building Olney’s profile in the local theater world.

At Bethesda’s Round House Theatre, Ryan Rilette took over as producing artistic director after Blake Robison left in June for a job in Cincinnati. Rilette, who brings experience from award-winning theaters in New York, New Orleans and the San Francisco Bay Area, has selected productions reflecting “a new artistic vision for Round House, one that celebrates the best new plays from New York and regional theater.”

And at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which performs at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Carol Bogash is working on cultivating new audiences and deepening their involvement with the BSO. Recently appointed vice president of education and community engagement, Bogash has years of arts education and administration experience from positions at the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Smithsonian Associates programs.

With easy access to so many local venues, lovers of the arts will find much to choose from as the spring season heats up. Here’s a look at some of the top offerings.

Theater

Spring Awakening

Feb. 7-March 10, Olney Theatre Center Mainstage

This isn’t the first time that Spring Awakening—winner of eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical—has been produced in the Washington, D.C., area. But it will be the first time that the rock musical, with its raw take on the journey from youth to adulthood, is directed by New York avant-garde writer/director, Fulbright Scholar and Potomac native Steven Cosson.

Platt had described the production as “a totally new look at arguably the best musical in the past 10 years.” Cosson will be “coming from…the perspective of the alternative New York theater world.”

The play fits with efforts to broaden the theater’s audience, according to Platt.

Spring Awakening is recommended for those 16 and up due to mature themes, language and nudity.

Olney Theatre Center Mainstage, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. 301-924-3400, www.olneytheatre.org. $32.50-$65. Call the box office or check the website for specific times.

Martha the talking dog finagles her way into a family vacation in Martha Speaks at the BlackRock Center for the Arts. Photo by Joan Marcus Martha Speaks

1 and 3 p.m. March 23, BlackRock Center for the Arts

Everyone who has read the Martha Speaks books by Susan Meddaugh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) or watched the PBS Kids TV show of the same name knows that

Martha “was an ordinary dog until the day she ate a bowl full of alphabet soup. Something unusual happened: All those letters went up to Martha’s brain instead of down
to her stomach.”

Now a new musical featuring the popular character, produced by top-touring company Theatreworks USA, comes to the Washington area. Its first stop is in Germantown, with one-day performances also scheduled for Annapolis and Fairfax, Va.

Aimed at kids 4 and older, the musical tells what happens after Martha correctly answers a trivia question on a radio call-in show and wins a free vacation for her family. The catch? No dogs allowed.

Martha is not about to sit at home and miss out on the fun.  

BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown. 240-912-1058, www.blackrockcenter.org. $14.

James and the Giant Peach at Bethesda's Imagination Stage. Courtesy of Theatreworks USAJames and the Giant Peach

(April 3-May 26) in repertory with The Magic Finger (April 12–May 24), Imagination Stage

It’s a Roald Dahl duo not to be missed: The classic kids’ tale of orphan James Trotter and a giant transatlantic flying peach, plus a world premiere of the lesser-known The Magic Finger, in which 8-year-old Lucy, who has a passion for righting wrongs, uses a “magic” index finger to dole out justice. Families will delight in watching Lucy use her magic to transform a duck-hunting family into ducks, and the ducks into human-size animals with arms.

Artistic Director Janet Stanford says the theater commissioned and developed The Magic Finger because “kids everywhere love” Dahl’s stories and his exaggeration of evil characters to make them funny.

James and the Giant Peach is best for kids 4-10; The Magic Finger, for kids 5-10.

Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660, www.imaginationstage.org. $12-$25. Call the box office or check the website for specific times.

How to Write a New Book for the Bible

April 10-May 5, Round House Theatre Bethesda

This 2011 semiautobiographical play by Jesuit priest Bill Cain—in which a man moves in with his failing but always funny mother when she can no longer cope on her own—is the first production of Rilette, a former president of the National New Play Network.

The San Francisco Chronicle called Bible, supposedly inspired by a diary Cain kept during his parents’ final illnesses, “an at times bracingly personal, smart, funny, affecting and curiously pedagogical account of the months a man spends caring for his increasingly frail mother, layered with flashbacks to the death of his father.”

Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East West Highway, Bethesda. 240-644-1100, www.roundhousetheatre.org. $10 to $63. Call the box office or check the website for specific times.

The Submission

May 9-June 9, Olney Theatre Center Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab

Jeff Talbott’s The Submission won the 2012 Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for best play by a first-time playwright and the 2011 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award, which provides $50,000 to the author and $100,000 toward production costs for a new play’s premiere. The New York Times called the resulting West Village production
“a perky tale of racial pride and prejudice in the theater.”

The premise is clever: A playwright’s gripping story about an alcoholic black mother and her cardsharp son trying to escape the projects gets accepted into the nation’s leading theater festival. But the playwright, Shaleeha G’ntamobi, isn’t real; she’s been made up by white wannabe author Danny, who created her as a kind of affirmative-action nom de plume. Next, he hires a person to “be” her, so he can “work” the process for getting new plays produced.  

Platt said last fall the theater was “very fortunate” to offer the play’s first local production. “It’s funny, it’s edgy, but it also deals with the kind of race and gender issues that all not-for-profit theaters deal with,” he said. 

Olney Theatre Center Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab. $32.50-$65. Call the box office or check the website for specific times.

Becky Shaw

May 29-June 23, Round House Theatre Bethesda

A Pulitzer Prize finalist and off-Broadway hit that The New York Times called “as engrossing as it is ferociously funny,” Becky Shaw is a comedy of romantic errors. The Round House production marks the local premiere of the show.

The script about a blind date gone bad is by Gina Gionfriddo, who won an Obie for the play After Ashley (she’s also a writer/producer for NBC-TV’s Law & Order). The Pulitzer committee described Becky Shaw as “a jarring comedy that examines family and romantic relationships with a lacerating wit while eschewing easy answers and pat resolutions.”

Round House Theatre Bethesda. $10 to $63. Call the box office or check the website for specific times.

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