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The chance doesn’t come around often—not once, in fact, in living memory—but with the recent opening of the almost-never-produced Timon of Athens, it now looks as if devoted Bardophiles may be able to accomplish locally a feat that usually requires a pilgrimage to London, New York, or Stratford: seeing all of Shakespeare’s plays.

As the chart below attests, the last decade has brought D.C. audiences all but two installments of the Bard’s tragical-historical-comical oeuvre—including a pair of multipart Henry marathons, once-in-a-generation mountings of King John and Henry VIII, and multiple productions of such traditionally neglected classics as Coriolanus, Cymbelinem, and Troilus and Cressida.

Now, Washington Shakespeare Company has announced an early 2001 reading of The Two Noble Kinsmen (a romance the Bard reportedly co-authored with John Fletcher)—which means only Titus Andronicus won’t have been staged hereabouts in the last decade (though Source did one in 1986, included below). In short, the time seems right for a look back: Herewith a selective sampling of the most memorable productions. —Bob Mondello

Play On

Anyone who wants to catch all the Bard’s plays should regard the Shakespeare Theatre’s current Timon of Athens as a must-see, because it’s only produced about once a generation. The others listed below (except for The Two Noble Kinsmen) could probably be caught later…but then, why wait?

Timon of Athens—Yupster gives away all his cash, lives to regroup, regret, repeat, and repent (at the Lansburgh to Oct. 22).

The Tempest—Kate Norris as a gender-bending Caliban in an interpretation conjured up by Joe Banno (at the Folger Oct. 28 to Dec. 3).

Richard II—Peer Gynt’s Wally Acton returns to his old stomping grounds as the Bard’s most timid king (at the Lansburgh Nov. 7 to Dec. 31).

Twelfth Night—an opportunity to catch Shenandoah Shakespeare Express not just in, but also on, Twelfth Night (at the Folger Dec. 27 to Jan. 7).

Two Gentlemen of Verona—Cross-dressing romance brought to life by Arena’s former artistic director, Doug Wager (at the Lansburgh March 27 to May 20).

The Two Noble Kinsmen—Staged reading and discussion of the romance the Bard co-authored with John Fletcher (at Clark Street Playhouse in early 2001).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Shenandoah Shakespeare Express kicks off its sneakers and ventures into those sprite-infested woods (at the Folger Feb. 20 to March 2).

As You Like It—If the way you like it involves Holly Twyford, this Bard’s for you (at the Folger May 13 to June 10).

Grisliest Deaths

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern notwithstanding, the Bard rarely allowed characters to “shuffle off this mortal coil” offstage. When folks die in Elizabethan plays, they tend to do it in plain view and under serious duress, and for directors weaned on slasher films, that situation provides an invitation of sorts.

Jim Stone, for instance, who mounted Washington Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar on the penthouse floor of an under-construction office building, did everything but throw his Roman emperor through the just-installed, 16th-story, plate-glass windows. First, gunshots rang out, then the conspirators stabbed away for a while, then Brutus lunged at Caesar, kissing him as he lifted him off the ground with a glinting 8-inch blade, surreptitiously splitting a chest-cavity blood pack that splattered its contents noisily on the concrete floor (and nearby patrons). The assassins finished up by washing their hands in the gore.

Shakespeare Theatre’s most recent Richard III ended with Stacy Keach’s head being brandished on a pike by his assassins; Cymbeline also boasts a decapitation (followed by the Bard’s least playable serious line of dialogue: “Where is your head?” spoken by the victim’s wife); and Macbeth’s multiple murders are almost invariably approached as if the royal usurper were a Freddy Krueger prototype.

But for cruelty without parallel, Shakespeare Theatre’s chief Bard-tender, Michael Kahn, should probably take the prize. In Henry VI, to establish that the War of the Roses was being fought on purely personal terms, he had Mad Max-ish thugs wrench a mother’s arms from their sockets and then slaughter her 10-year-old son before her eyes. With her limbs dangling uselessly, she screamed, sank to her knees, and crawled to his limp form, sobbing uncontrollably as she realized she couldn’t hug his lifeless body or even caress

his cheek.

Explains why they call them “revenge plays,” no?


AC = The Acting Company

AS = Arena Stage

DCAC = District of Columbia Arts Center

FT = Folger Theatre

ITC = Interact Theatre Company

KC = Kennedy Center

KT = Keegan Theatre

RNC = Royal National Theatre

RSC = Royal Shakespeare Company

SO = Source Theatre

SSE = Shenandoah Shakespeare Express

ST = Shakespeare Theatre

WSC = Washington Shakespeare



All’s Well That Ends Well

’97, ST

’97, ST: Didn’t even start well; looked like Biblical pageant

As You Like It


’00, WSC: Hiphop version set in Central Park with a largely black cast

’96, FT w/ITC: Gilbert & Sullivan-esque with way too much music and scenery

The Comedy of Errors

’97, WSC; ’93, ST

’97, WSC: Orange Afro wigs, strenuous whimsy, not much humor

’93, ST: Floyd King and Philip Goodwin did double duty, each playing two twins

Love’s Labour’s Lost

’95, ST

’95, ST: Pictured as an intellectual romp through an Edwardian library

Measure for Measure

’98, WSC; ’92, ST

’98, WSC: Magnolia-scented, racially conscious Deep South production

’92, ST: An NEA-inflected battle over free speech starring Kelly McGillis

The Merchant of Venice

’99, ST; ’95, WSC; ’95 FT w/SO; ’92, SSE

’99, ST: Hal Holbrook’s Shylock, closeted gay Antonio, and codpieces stuffed to bursting

’95, WSC: Merchant surrounded himself at poolside with party boys in bikinis

’95, FT w/SO: Modern Shylock

pitted against cell-phone-wielding yuppies

’92, SSE: Irresponsible college students vs. townie-businessman Shylock

The Merry Wives of Windsor

’98, ST; ’90, ST

’98, ST: Set in ’50s suburbia at a country club, with Falstaff as Jackie Gleason

’90, ST: Pat Carroll actually slimmed down to play a distaff Falstaff in drag

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

’99, KT; ’99, ST; ’95, KC (RSC); ’94, WSC; ’89, AS

’99, KT: ’50s Grease-flavored; Puck was a fairy in more than usual sense

’99, ST: Sexy, nude, Freudian to the max with Oberon as leading lady’s daddy

’95, KC (RSC): Magritte-inspired; Bottom fell asleep in a huge, upside-down floating umbrella

’94, WSC: Hawaiian luau, with a parachute-silk volcano, Duke as a Pearl Harbor admiral

’89, AS: Muscular and S&M-ish, with Oberon’s fairies as a motorcycle gang

Much Ado About Nothing

’98, FT w/SO; ’94, SSE; ’92, ST

’98, FT w/SO: Set not in Italy, but in Little Italy, with New York-accented cops and barflies

The Taming of the Shrew

’99, WSC; ’98, SSE; ’95, ST; ’94, SSE

’99, WSC: All-female cast performing the play in a WWII-era Parisian library

The Tempest

’97, ST ; ’93, WSC

’97, ST: Euro-centered, colonialist with black Caliban and natives, white masters

Twelfth Night

’98, ST; ’97 WSC; ’93 AS; ’89, ST,

’97, WSC: Woman played Sebastian, reversing Elizabethan tradition of boy playing Viola

’89, ST: Kelly McGillis landed in an Illyria that seemed a suburb of Calcutta

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

’01, ST; ’96, WSC; ’91, AS w/AC

’91, AS w/AC: Clowns in the first half, Wild West in the second; God knows why, but it sure as hell was rambunctious

The Winter’s Tale

’99, WSC; ’94, KC (RSC)

’99, WSC: Double vision: dour royal court contrasted with ’50s beach-blanket movie

’94, KC (RSC): Balloon-happy production design; seemed to take place in the mind of a child who liked horror stories with happy endings


Henry IV, Parts 1& 2

’94, ST

’94, ST: A single four-hour evening; epic struggle with rip-roaring battles and a usurping king whose wastrel son showed promise as leader

Henry V

’96, ST; ’96, SSE

’96, ST: Harry Hamlin leading the few, the proud, the Marines

’96, SSE: Twenty-something version with much-reduced “band of brothers”

Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, & 3

’96, ST

’96, ST: Fifteen hours of script reduced to four-plus hours of coherent conflict as a “nice” king lost everything his forebears had gained

Henry VIII

’98, KC (RSC)

’98, KC (RSC): An imported, gilded jewel box of a production, featuring a king who wore dildoes at parties

King John

’98, ST

’98, ST: Philip Goodwin played weak king in a timely “impeachment” pageant with definite contemporary parallels

Richard II

’93, ST

’93, ST: Richard Thomas was brilliant in flashes, even if he

turned the indecisive monarch into a blend of queen mother and harried hairdresser

Richard III

’98, WSC; ’98, SSE; ’92,KC (RNT); ’90, ST

’98, WSC: Modern dress, John Emmert as a Wall Street wheeler-dealer

’98, SSE: Kate Norris played Richard without gender switching

’92, KC (RNT) CKCK, Ian McKellen’s flashily fascist ’30s king (later made into movie)


Antony and Cleopatra

’96, ST; ’88, ST

’88, ST: Wading-pool version; Tony and Cleo got soaked as they waded in to sink Caesar’s boats


’00, ST; ’91, ST

’00, ST: New Deal-ish look at fascist/prole dichotomy, set on metal staircase

’91, ST: sword flew into audience during previews, giving battle scenes extra edge


’98, KC (RSC); ’96, WSC

’98, KC (RSC): Very Asian, lotsa fabrics wafting in breeze

’96, WSC: Played on runway that ran from Dynasty-style royals to Appalachian yokels, with the Mafia rubbing out folks who didn’t pay their debts


’99, FT w/SO; ’98, KC (RSC); ’98, KT;

’94, DCAC; ’92, ST; ’90, WSC

’99, FT w/SO: Four people played title role, three of them women

’98, KC (RSC): Alex Jennings’ troubled prince brooded over

home movies

’94, DCAC: Multimedia version w/grungy Elsinor, motorcycle-

helmeted ghost

’92, ST: Tom Hulce as an action-hero prince of Denmark

Julius Caesar

’00, FT; ‘ 96, SSE; ’93, ST; ’90, WSC

’90, WSC: Caesar on the roof (of an unfinished office building) with video news flashes, audience on the go

King Lear

’99, ST; ’94, WSC

’99, ST: Ted Van Griethuysen as haplessly wrongheaded king and a deaf Cordelia

’94, WSC: Mikel Lambert played “Queen” Lear


’99, SSE; ’95, ST; ’92,WSC

’99, SSE: Frat-boy Thane, Banquo got up like Thandie

Newton in Beloved

’95, ST: Stacy Keach wide-eyed in horror at what he was doing;

very violent


’97, ST; ’94, SSE; ’90, ST

’97, ST: Race-reversed, w/Patrick Stewart heading mostly black cast

’94, SSE: An O.J. Simpson-inspired collegiate version, light on its sneakered feet

’90, ST: Deep Space Nine’s Avery Brooks as the Moor, with Homicide’s Andre Braugher as black Iago

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

’98, WSC

’98, WSC: Audience traveled to eight ministages and four decades (’60s-’90s) as Pericles wandered Greece, seeing sights that included a midget with a dildo

Romeo and Juliet

’99, FT; ’97, FT; ’94, ST

’99, FT: Shakespeare’s R&J, prep-school boys acting out all the parts

’97, FT: Teens romping at the mall under cineplex signs

’94, ST: Dopily color-coded with Capulets in blue, Montagues in

yellow, and Juliet wearing green for the wedding

Timon of Athens

’00, ST

’00, ST: Updated from Greek

Golden Age to Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”

Titus Andronicus

’86, SO

’86, SO: Farce in bedsheets and funny shoes, with smoking limbs flying, and a heroine who gets hands cut off and tongue cut out, then tries to eat chips and dip

Troilus and Cressida

’99, WSC; ’92, ST

’99, WSC: Sardonic take on seamy side of a U.S. military operation, with nudity

’92, ST: Post-Desert Storm Troy with symbolically overloaded characters

That Play He Co-wrote With John Fletcher

The Two Noble Kinsmen

’01, WSC: Staged reading scheduled