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That's A Wrap!

After eight years chronicling the incredibly vibrant theater community of the Potomac Region, the time came to wrap it up. As of January 1, 2010, Potomac Stages website ceased publication. The site will remain available on the internet for its archival value until arrangements can be made for a permanent depository. The theater information will not be updated and can be expected to become outdated rapidly. However, the Google Search box above will give readers a way to search for reviews among the nearly 2,200 the site published. For up-to-date information on professional theater, readers might visit DC Theatre Scene at www.DCTheatreScene.com.

It has been a fascinating experience watching our local theater scene - both professional and community - blossom in the first decade of the new century. When we began, on October 12, 2001, the front page of the website boasted that we would cover the region's 185 producing theater companies and venues. On our last day of publication, that number was 207. Despite the economic hard times that hindered the last years of the decade, that is a growth of 10%!

When we began, the Potomac Region was one of the dozens of theater communities that could boast having a winner of the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater within its borders. Today we are one of the very few who can boast two such Tony Award winners - Arena Stage which won the first ever such award and Signature Theatre which won the most recent one.

That doesn't tell the whole story of the impressive growth, however.

Potomac Stages has seen the opening of Woolly Mammoth's gorgeous new concrete-themed theater on D Street NW, the Shakespeare Theatre Company's sleek wooden hall just a few blocks away on F Street NW, The Studio Theatre's growth to a four-house home on 14th Street NW, GALA's sensitive preservation of the interior dome of the Tivoli for its new space in Columbia Heights, and that's just in DC. In Maryland we've witnessed the openings of Round House's lovely new home in Bethesda as well as its new experimental space in Silver Spring, the expansion into a three-venue rural-but-no-longer-rustic complex for the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, and Baltimore opening its beautifully restored Hippodrome to replace the smaller Mechanic as a tour show spot, while in Virginia, Arlington County opened the Theatre on the Run and Signature Theatre moved from its former chrome plating shop on Four Mile Run, affectionately referred to as 'the garage,' into its two-venue space anchoring the west end of Shirlington. Thanks in great part to Jaylee and the late Gil Mead, Arena's extraordinary Mead Center for the American Theater is still under construction but the temporary space they re-configured for legitimate theater in Crystal City has become a venue with great credentials including incubating last year's Tony Award winning Next to Normal. New space is also under construction for Baltimore's Everyman Theatre.

Theater for children has been a particularly impressive area of growth and change with the conversion of the former AFI theater in the Kennedy Center into the Family Theater, Imagination Stage opening its beautiful facility in Bethesda, Adventure Theatre opening its redesigned space in Glen Echo, Classika in Virginia joining forces with Synetic and a number of company's maintaining active programs of shows for or by children from pre-school through the teens.

Theater is, of course, more that brick and mortar. It is people and the productions they put on. The first decade of the century saw so many memorable productions that it is impossible to mention all those that remain indelibly in the mind. Potomac Stages has reviewed 2,195 productions at 191 venues. The majority of the reviews were by Brad Hathaway but William Bryan reviewed 34 productions before his day job took him out of the region and David Siegel reviewed 118 over the last two years.

There are many productions that refuse to recede in memory. The Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration with its six full mountings of Sondheim musicals in rotating repertory will long be remembered by all who were lucky enough to attend even some of them.

Then there were those annual demonstrations of the health of the community, the award ceremonies. The Helen Hayes Awards, which recognize quality work in our professional companies, stage a ceremony which well deserves its reputation as the cast party of the year each year, and the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) Awards throw a pretty amazing bash every year at the Birchmere to celebrate excellence in our community theaters.

Among the strongest memories has to be the week the American Theatre Critics Association, with the crucial help of Arlington's Cultural Affairs Division, brought critics and theater journalists from around the country to the nation's capitol for their annual convention in 2008. They attended performances at Arena, Round House, Woolly Mammoth, Signature, Olney, Shakespeare Theatre, toured the Kennedy Center, held a meeting on the stage of the National Theatre, and visited Arlington's Gunston Arts Center. Time and time again we heard "I had no idea what a fabulous theater town this is!" Then they went home and wrote about what they had seen.

As we look back on our nearly 2,200 reviews, many memories spring to life. There are the string of thought provoking plays about morality and the meaning of life at Theater J, such as the exhausting hour and a quarter of Holly Twyford's solo performance in There Are No Strangers or Brigid Cleary's equally amazing solo stint in the first act Homebody/Kabul.  The American Century Theater let us experience Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones while Quotidian Theatre mounted tasteful presentations of the works of Horton Foote.

There have been great new plays such as Arena's productions of Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations, Michael Holinger's Opus at Everyman and his Incorruptible at the Washington Stage Guild, Warren Leight's Side Man which Keegan mounted so memorably at the Church Street Theatre, Jeremy Skidmore's energetic staging of Stuff Happens in Olney's lab, Rorschach's The Beard of Avon, Rep Stage's string of highly entertaining stagings including Wittenberg, Bach at Leipzig and Richard Greenberg's marvelous pair: The Violet Hour and The Dazzle, Stephen Adly Guirgis's Jesus Hopped the A Train at Round House's Silver Spring space, and The Drawer Boy at their Bethesda home. At Studio there was David Harrower's Blackbird, Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa! and Joy Zinoman's better-than-Broadway mounting of The History Boys. Theatre Alliance gave us young Phoebe Rusch's lovely of a Mass for St. Vivian and the incredibly lovely dream play Mary's Wedding while Woolly Mammoth's stretched dramatic boundaries with plays such as Dead Man's Cell Phone, After Ashley, The Clean House and Danai Gurira and Dikkole Salter's In The Continuum.

There have been new musicals like A Man of No Importance at Annapolis' Bay Theatre, The Civil War at Ford's, the incredibly funny The Musical of Musicals: The Musical at MetroStage, Summer of '42 at Round House, A Class Act and A New Brain at Studio, Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox's series of family-friendly musicals at the Theater of the first Amendment and Robert Brustein's marvelous Shlemiel the First in its reading at Theater J. The Kander and Ebb songfest at Signature, First You Dream, or, for that matter, their The Visit with Chita Rivera and George Hearn are but two of the new works which thrilled us at Signature. There was also Ace, Saving Aimee, and The Gospel According to Fishman. They gave Nevermore its fabulous world premiere in Virginia and then the Kensington Arts Theater mounted an even better version in Maryland.

New interpretations of older musicals also fill our memory banks including Ford's importation of the Deaf West/Roundabout version of Big River, The Kennedy Center's sumptuous remounting of the last great musical of the twentieth century, Ragtime, which went on to Broadway, Open Circle's remarkable staging of Jesus Christ Superstar with a cast of artists with disabilities, Toby's astonishingly rich Titanic and striking Jekyll & Hyde and Wayside's revival of Galt MacDermot's long ignored The Human Comedy which join the string of notable revivals at Signature such as Kiss of the Spider Woman with Hunter Foster and Will Chase, The Witches of Eastwick, Urinetown, 110 In The Shade and practically the entire catalogue of Stephen Sondheim.

Unforgettable individual performances include Scott Fortier as The Elephant Man at Catalyst, Michael Learned's Elizabeth The Queen at Folger and Kerry Waters Lucas as a very different impression of that same queen in Keegan Theatre's Elizabeth Rex, Frederick Strother in Fences at Everyman, Barbara Cook leaving her microphone behind to fill the Eisenhower Theater with her un-amplified voice, Jim Jorgenson's career toping turn in Forum's recent Angels in America, Parts I and II, Sally Field's incredibly generous blending with the full ensemble in The Glass Menagerie as part of the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams festival, Stephen Gregory Smith's breakout turn in tick, tick . . . BOOM at MetroStage, Michael Tolaydo's rendition of the entire text of St. Mark's Gospel, or Adam Jonas Segaller's unforgettable naked and soaked entrance as Kit Marlowe at Rorchach. Then, too, there were Rene Auberjonois's sickly shtick in The Imaginary Invalid and Dixie Carter in Lady Windermere's Fan at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Kate Debelack's making the most of Neil LaBute's over-size character in Fat Pig, Gin Hammond's striking performance in The Syringa Tree, Jake Suffian as the nearly inarticulate homophobic baseball player in Take Me Out at Studio, Stephen Lang's string of Medal of Honor winners in Tribute's Beyond Glory. The Washington Shakespeare Company gave us Jay Hardee's ultimate abandon as the tortured horse torturer in Equus, Christopher Henley in The Night of the Iguana and Bruce Alan Rauscher's Edward III while the Folger was home to Craig Wallace as Othello.

There were mutually supportive on-stage partnerships of note as well including Catherine Flye and Michael Tolaydo in Sea Marks at MetrosStage, Christopher Lane and Sherri L. Edelen in The Swan at Rep Stage, Ed Gero's Nixon and Conrad Feininger's Kissinger in Nixon's Nixon at Round House. There was the triple joy of Holly Twyford, Kate Eastwood Norris and Lucy Newman-Williams playing all the supporting roles in Aaron Posner's marvelous vision of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the triple dose of drama from Andrew Long, Nancy Robinette and MaryBeth Wise in Studio's Frozen.

We've seen recreations of note including Brian Childers and Janine Gulisano (now Gulisano-Sunday) bringing Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine to life in Danny & Sylvia, Nigel Reed breathing life into Dalton Trumbo at  Rep Stage, Rick Foucheaux doing the same with Elia Kazan at  Round House in Silver Spring and Jim Brochu bellowing a-la Zero Mostel at Theater J.

We treasure memories such as Forum's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, the exhilaration of discovery when the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown comes up with a gem such as 'The Pavilion or 'Thief River" or when design triumphs such as Michael Clark's projections for The Persians or Kate Whoriskey's staging of The Tempest at the Shakespeare, Aaron Cromie's puppets for Studio's The Long Christmas Ride Home or the unique motion-based theater of Synetic with its silent Shakespeare in Hamlet . . . the rest is silence and its lovely Romeo and Juliet or its non-bard Host and Guest."

While it comes as no surprise that the majority of the unforgettable moments come from some of the professional theaters that can bring financial and artistic resources to bear that exceed the abilities of community theaters, the fact that Potomac Stages covered community stages as thoroughly as possible resulted in our seeing and spreading the word of some absolutely marvelous work. Consider:

-   The Arlington Players' presentation of Stephen Sondheim's first professional musical, Saturday Night.

-   Mollie Clement's astonishing work at age eight as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker at the Thomas Jefferson in Arlington.

-   The Audrey Herman Spotlighters tiny version of Batboy, the Musical.

-   The Colonial Players' satisfying staging of Proof.

-   Dominion Stage bringing A Fine and Private Place to our attention.

-   Eldon Street Players' well balanced version of Blood Brothers or their intellectually fascinating version of Copenhagen.

-   The Foundry Players well balanced work on The Laramie Project.

-   Hard Bargain's gutsy Floyd Collins among the insects in the Accokeek woods

-   A raft of fine musicals at the Kensington Armory thanks to the Kensington Arts Theatre.

-   The Little Theatre of Alexandria's ensemble work on 1776 as well as a string of superb performances such as Ken Clayton's in Biloxi Blues, Amy Miharu Hough's in Sylvia and Joe Jenckes' in On Golden Pond.

-   Port City Playhouse's production of Betrayal with such a solid performance by Sheri S. Herren and a marvelously memorable set by Grant Kevin Lane, or their own mounting of The Elephant Man with Bruce Alan Rauscher as the tormented John Merrick.

-   Rockville Little Theatre's tasteful revival of The Rainmaker.

-   M. Butterfly at St. Marks' Players on Capitol Hill.

-   The youngsters of Wildwood Summer Theatre handling the complexities and demands of West Side Story.

Any way you look at it, it has been an honor as well as a pleasure to cover theater in the Potomac Region during this exciting period.