Like so many past years, 2012 also saw an energetic pool of LGBT theater professionals contributing to the vitality and success of the ever-expanding local theater scene. The following gives you an idea.
Undoubtedly, one of the area‚Äôs hardest working theater folks throughout this year has been Signature Theatre‚Äôs gay associate director Matthew Gardiner. He‚Äôs also one of its most talented.
Gardiner staged four excellent and very different Signature productions beginning with ‚ÄúReally Really,‚ÄĚ a comic tragedy about today‚Äôs mind numbingly self-absorbed youth. Next up, he directed and choreographed a well-executed production of the ‚Äė70s campfest musical, ‚ÄúXanadu.‚ÄĚ In the fall, he helmed gay playwright Christopher Shinn‚Äôs ‚ÄúDying City,‚ÄĚ an intimate drama about life and death in the shadow of the Iraq War with strapping actor Thomas Keegan playing both the butch army officer and his more effusive gay identical twin. Gardiner finished the year directing and choreographing a first rate production of ‚ÄúDreamgirls.‚ÄĚ And if all that weren‚Äôt enough, sometime in early fall he made time to choreograph MetroStage‚Äôs notable production of ‚ÄúJacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.‚ÄĚ
Last spring‚Äôs ‚ÄúTwist Festival D.C.‚ÄĚ gave local audiences were given an opportunity to experience the magic of gay puppeteer extraordinaire Basil Twist. The mini-fest kicked off at the Shakespeare Theatre Company with ‚ÄúPetrushka,‚ÄĚ Twist‚Äôs trippy take on the classic Russian ballet about a love triangle involving three puppets: the eponymous clown, a ballerina and a Moor. Originally commissioned for New York‚Äôs Lincoln Center in 2000, the charming show featured pirouetting puppets and floating objects accompanied by real life Russian identical twins playing a reduction of Igor Stravinsky‚Äôs score on identical pianos.
Other festival productions included ‚ÄúArias with a Twist‚ÄĚ (Twist‚Äôs campy collaboration with legendary downtown New York drag performer Joey Arias); and ‚ÄúDogugaeshi,‚ÄĚ a Japanese-inspired journey of images accompanied by original Japanese lute compositions (at Woolly Mammoth and Studio Theatre respectively).
Over the year, art imitated life with gay actors giving memorable performances as gay characters including Tom Story and Chris Dinolfo as a mismatched but devoted couple in Roundhouse Theatre‚Äôs ‚ÄúNext Fall.‚ÄĚ Rep Stage‚Äôs production of gay playwright Jon Marans‚Äô ‚ÄúThe Temperamentals‚ÄĚ featured Rick Hammerly as Bob Hull, a founding member of the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Society (the first gay rights organization in the United States). And at Theater J, MaryBeth Wise played one half of a same-sex couple in Annie Baker‚Äôs comic drama ‚ÄúBody Awareness.‚ÄĚ
Also at Theater J, Will Gartshore played an allegedly ‚Äúex-gay‚ÄĚ Christian in ‚ÄúThe Religion Thing‚ÄĚ (penned by local playwright Renee Calarco and staged by her gay brother, director Joe Calarco). Gartshore‚Äôs layered performance gave dimension to a character that might otherwise have been perceived simply as a creepy stereotype.
Impressively, Gartshore performed three different one-man cabarets in just two weeks this summer: A mix of well-known and obscure tunes titled ‚ÄúUnderappreciated & Overexposed‚ÄĚ at Signature Theatre, ‚ÄúDressed Up‚ÄĚ the next weekend, then companion piece ‚ÄúStripped Down‚ÄĚ at Round House Theatre‚Äôs Silver Spring space. With his gorgeous tenor, talent for intimate storytelling and ability to put across both a painful breakup song and cheekily spun version of Cole Porter‚Äôs ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre the Top,‚ÄĚ with equal ease, Gartshore took his audiences on a gratifying and fun musical journey. D.C. is lucky to have him.
Local out actor Bobby Smith showed off his skill set in 2012. In the fall, Smith wowed audiences playing the title character in MetroStage‚Äôs topnotch production of ‚ÄúJacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,‚ÄĚ a musical revue celebrating the work of the late singer/songwriter known as the voice of postwar Paris. Smith was terrific as the world weary, cynical yet sentimental Brel.
Following ‚ÄúJacques Brel,‚ÄĚ Smith staged a charming take on Rodgers and Hammerstein‚Äôs beloved musical ‚ÄúCinderella‚ÄĚ at the Olney Theatre Center (runs through Dec. 30).
In 2012, some openly gay actors played it straight. The versatile and nimble Alex Mills starred as the upstanding scientist and his terrifying alter ego in Synetic Theatre‚Äôs ‚ÄúJeckyll and Hyde.‚ÄĚ Broadway actor Nicholas Rodriquez returned to Arena Stage to play love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the Edwardian dandy who falls in love with Eliza in ‚ÄúMy Fair Lady‚ÄĚ (through Jan. 6). And Holly Twyford and Matthew Montelongo fought and fornicated in Studio Theatre‚Äôs world premiere of ‚ÄúDirt,‚ÄĚ Bryony Lavery‚Äôs play about morality and decay.
A highlight from this year was Arena Stage‚Äôs production of Larry Kramer‚Äôs stunning drama ‚ÄúThe Normal Heart.‚ÄĚ Considered a rant when it premiered in New York in 1985, Kramer‚Äôs autobiographical AIDS play has aged beautifully ‚ÄĒ still full of fury but also empathetic, loving and sad. This production was skillfully staged by gay director George C. Wolfe and featured a fabulous cast including Patrick Breen as Ned, the Kramer character, and handsome Luke MacFarlane as his lover who has been diagnosed with the virus.
For Shakespeare Theatre Company‚Äôs gay artistic director Michael Kahn, 2012 was a spectacular year. Not only did his company celebrating its 25th anniversary season, it was also honored with the prestigious Regional Theatre Tony Award. Not too shabby.