D.C.’s Constellation Theatre announces 2015-2016 season

From ancient to modern, from the Arabian Nights to “Avenue Q,” Constellation’s eclectic new season launches in August 2015.

Broadway cast of "Avenue Q," the hit musical Constellation is bringing to town this fall. (Via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2015 – Well known in the nation’s capital for its eclectic and sometimes exotic, internationally-themed theatrical repertoire, the Constellation Theatre Company remained true to form as it announced its upcoming 2015-2016 theater season earlier this week.

With performances ranging from ancient to modern, from the Arabian Nights to “Avenue Q,” Constellation’s eclectic new season launches in August 2015 with a unique “production”: a screening of German artist-filmmaker Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 animated film, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” one of the tales in the “Arabian Nights.”

Film still.
Still from silent animated film “Prince Achmed.” To be shown with original music by Constellation Theatre this fall at the Source. (Via Wikipedia)

Regarded by scholars as perhaps the oldest still-surviving animated feature film, Reiniger’s animated film is still occasionally aired on Turner Classic Movies, with excerpts occasionally appearing on the free classic arts channel that is carried by some cable TV providers. Reiniger’s animation itself relies on an early version of the stop-motion technique later polished and employed in films like “King Kong.” In this 1926 film, Reiniger used the technique to animate silhouette figures, creating a misty, exotic effect.

As was sometimes the case in the early film era, the black and white film was tinted to simulate color. Modern restorations of the original nitrate film have sought to preserve this effect.

But what will make Constellation’s “production” of “Prince Achmed” unique is the addition of an original background score by popular area musician-composer and Helen Hayes Award-winner Tom Teasley to accompany the film. Better yet, Teasley will perform it live during each showing of the film. (August 13-15, 2015)

Next up on the fall schedule will be Constellation’s new production of one of Broadway’s strangest theatrical hits in this new century: “Avenue Q” (2003). With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, this hilarious Tony Award-winning show, directed here by Allison Arkell Stockman, abounds in both irony and laughter.

"Avenue Q" Broadway cast.
Broadway cast of “Avenue Q,” the hit musical Constellation is bringing to town this fall. (Via Wikipedia)

“Avenue Q” narrates the life and hard times of a late Gen-X/early millennial college graduate named Princeton who arrives in the Big Apple with supersized hopes and dreams and a threadbare wallet. Trapped in a lousy apartment in a worse neighborhood—all he can afford—Princeton soon discovers that all that stuff he was told about being “special” as a child was essentially bunk as he tries to find an actual job and some semblance of romance.

What makes this show and its seemingly timeworn social theme “special,” however, is not only its catchy, funny score. Princeton’s weird and quirky neighbors, many of them in the same boat, are a platoon of Muppet-style puppets, giving the show a uniquely cartoon-like look and feel. (October 22-November 23, 2015)

Peter Shaffer’s Tony- and Drama Desk-award winning drama “Equus” (1973) has been around seemingly forever. But this is a play (eventually a film as well) that never loses its capacity to fascinate and repel as a determined psychiatrist attempts to discover the dark motivations behind a young teenager’s compulsion to maim horses.

Poster promoting 1977 film of "Equus." (Via IMbd)
Poster promoting 1977 film of “Equus.” (Via IMbd)

Under the direction of Amber McGinnis Jackson, Constellation’s take on this disturbing classic is sure to be provocative. (January 14-February 14, 2016)

Constellation heads back to Asia once again for its final 2015-2016 production, Mary Zimmerman’s “Journey to the West.” Zimmerman’s play is actually an adaptation of an ancient Chinese epic concerning the journey of a Buddhist monk named Tripitaka from his native country to far-away India in search of sacred scriptures and spiritual enlightenment.

As with most ancient “travel narratives,” however, the course of his journey will not be an easy one. In the process, our spiritually-questing hero will have to confront daunting obstacles and accept the assistance of some unlikely companions, including a monkey, a pig and a monster. As Oscar Wilde once noted, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Allison Arkell Stockman directs, and Tom Teasley returns to provide the musical atmospherics. (April 21-May 22, 2016)

Scene from "Journey to the West."
Screen shot of 1995 Vimeo video depicting an early production of “Journey to the West.”

All Constellation Theatre productions will take place at the Source, located at 1835 14th St. NW (at the corner of T St.), Washington, DC 20009. Parking in this increasingly popular neighborhood can be a challenge at times—one easily solved by taking the Metro to the U St./Cardozo Station, just two blocks

Tickets & Information: Season subscriptions available from $79-119. Also individual tickets. Visit www.ConstellationTheatre.org for details or call 202-204-7741.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17