“This city is not just a place to see monuments,” says Michael Kahn, the feisty, white-bearded artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. His goal is to transform the nation’s capital into a world-class destination for classical theater where one can take in two or three superbly staged plays in as many days.
Last October Kahn inaugurated the 775-seat Sidney Harman Hall, an $89 million showcase of glass, steel, and concrete, with a black-tie scrum of the city’s political and cultural elite. The combination of the medium-size Harman Hall with the company’s nearby existing space, the Lansborough (together they’re known as the Harman Center for the Arts), gives Kahn 1,226 seats to fill nightly.
“It’s the audience of the most powerful city on earth,” says the Brooklyn-born director, who relishes the chance to perform for Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, presidents, and first ladies. “To have a play mean something to them is for me immensely gratifying.”
Kahn christened the new theater with a pair of well-received Christopher Marlowe plays: Edward II and a spectacular production of Tamburlaine. The latter, Kahn notes, “is about empire and an ambition to make the world into your own image” and has particular resonance today.
Kahn has a knack for staging topical productions. In spring 2006 the company performed Aeschylus’s The Persians, in which a Greek chorus of war cabinet officials laments the arrogance of their decision to invade a smaller country—a work bristling with allusions to the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq.
The topicality continues this season with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Given their overarching themes of cutthroat politics and lust for power, Kahn says, the Bard’s two “Roman” plays are perfect material for a contentious election year.
Smurfs Turn 50
Les Schtroumpfs, created by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo, debuted in the comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1958. To celebrate, there is a traveling exhibition and other events (happysmurfday.com). Plus, a movie is coming next year.
When New York’s Museum of Arts and Design opens in its Columbus Circle digs in September, the inaugural show will be “Second Lives,” a survey of everyday objects turned into art. The name also applies to the new quarters, a controversial conversion by Brad Cloepfil of the old Lollipop Building.
British megacollector Charles Saatchi’s much-anticipated new gallery in the Chelsea section of London opens in late spring or summer. Team Saatchi has been cagey about the details, but the first exhibition will be a survey of—not much surprise here—contemporary Chinese works, one of the art mogul’s recent obsessions.