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CurtainUp DC  Report: February 1998

by Les Gutman

February DC Report Topics
NOTE:  Click on the links below to go directly to the topics.

Dreamgirls, by Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger
Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen
Playwrights at the Corcoran
Web pages mentioned in this report

January was such a busy month in DC for CurtainUp, we felt a little reverie might be in order in February. As luck would have it, the theater-related offerings for the month remind us that there are all kinds of dreams. 
Dreamgirls: Broadway or Bust?

When, in 1981, Dreamgirls commenced the first of its 1,522 performances on Broadway, it was a decent show rendered great by the work of two incomparable talents: the staging of Michael Bennett and the singing of Jennifer Holliday. A revival, currently at the Kennedy Center, will sooner or later (there are no definite arrangements yet) reach a Broadway stage. Will it be a dream or a nightmare?

If the critical reception in DC is a reasonable guide (and there is as much proof that it is as that it is not), the answer is neither. The consensus (as usual there are exceptions) is that the revival is a mere shadow of the original. Skimpy in design and lacking in the sort of electric energy Bennett created seventeen years ago, I suspect it will leave those (like me) who saw the "genuine article" unsatisfied, and those who didn't shrugging their shoulders wondering what all the fuss was about. The memorable role in Dreamgirls is of course Jennifer Holliday's Effie. Here it goes to B. J. Crosby, late of Broadway's Smokey Joe's Cafe, who apparently will prove yet again that a strong singing voice, alone, does not a musical theater star make.
They will keep dreaming at the Kennedy Center until February 15. More information can be had on the KenCen's website, linked below, or by calling (202) 467-4600.
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A Young Ibsen Dreamed: Peer Gynt

The Shakespeare Theatre has tackled Ibsen's unwieldy verse drama, Peer Gynt, and turned it into an exceptionally stageworthy production. Standing (with Brand) in sharp contrast to Ibsen's later and more frequently-produced Naturalist masterpieces (such as A Doll's House, Ghosts and Hedda Gabler), Peer Gynt is a fantasia in which dream mixes freely with fact in retelling a classic Norwegian folk tale.

Less well known is the way in which Peer Gynt follows Ibsen's own life in fact, fancy and even, perhaps, premonition. Peer Gynt was a man with high aspirations whose life was a journey of self-discovery. His comfortable home life deteriorated when his family's inheritance was squandered; he was an outsider in his small Norwegian village. He left home and, among other "adventures," entered the troll kingdom where he fathered a child. After the death of his mother, he left Norway and travelled to far-off places, ending his lifelong journey back where it began, in Norway.

Ibsen also had lofty aspirations. His life began in privilege, in the small town of Skien in Norway, but his father's extravagance lead to the family's bankruptcy. A loner, Ibsen moved to another small town where he, too, fathered a child in an "alien" world. Ibsen left Norway while his mother was still living -- he lived most of his adult life in Italy and Germany -- and Ibsen's mother was still alive when he wrote Peer Gynt, but Ibsen acknowledges that Peer's mother was largely based on his own. Finally, like Peer, Ibsen returned to his native Norway to spend his final years.

I would have referred to Peer Gynt as "rarely performed," but in 1998 that's hardly the case. In addition to the Shakespeare Theatre version, the east coast will get at least two other Peers this year. David Henry Hwang has undertaken a new adaptation that will premiere at Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island this month and New York's Theater for the New City will unveil an Appalachian version by Romulus Linney. Look out for a review of the latter in CurtainUp later this month. The Shakespeare Theatre production runs through March 8. Information by telephone at (202) 393-2700 or via the website linked below.
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Playwrights at the Corcoran
The Corcoran Gallery of Art has invited an impressive group of major playwrights to participate in a series of discussions on plays and the theater. These discussions, all moderated by Michael Kahn, are on Wednesdays at 7:30 P.M. beginning February 25. The schedule is:
2/25/98 Paula Vogel, Drama Desk and Obie Award winning playwright of How I Learned to Drive, The Baltimore Waltz, Desdemona, And Baby Makes Seven and The Oldest Profession.
3/4/98 Terrence McNally, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics' Circle and NY Drama Critics' Circle Award winning playwright of Ragtime, Master Class, Love, Valor, Compassion, A Perfect Ganesh, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Frankie and Johnnie in the Claire de Lune, and the book for Kiss of the Spider Woman.
3/18/98 Christopher Durang, Obie Award winning playwright of Sex and Longing, For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, Durang/Durang, The Marriage of Betty and Boo, Baby with the Bathwater, Beyond Therapy and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All to You.
3/25/98 John Guare, Tony and NY Drama Critics' Circle Award winning playwright of Six Degrees of Separation, The House of Blue Leaves and the libretto for Two Gentlemen From Verona.

Tickets are available for the series or four individual evenings. Further information is available by telephoning (202) 639-1770 or through the website linked below.
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Links to Web Pages Mentioned in this Report
Kennedy Center website:
Shakespeare Theatre website:
Corcoran website:

©February 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
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