Smaller is better: the fall theater seasons

There will always be those who absolutely must head to Big Washington to see the latest thing. But here in Little Washington, and over two hills and a dale or three in little Castleton, there are some excellent opportunities this fall to save on fuel costs, if not also entertainment costs.

Plus, when you get there, you are guaranteed to not be seated 150 yards from the talent.

While autumn brings the biggest crowds and the most crowded calendars to Rappahannock County, we want to focus here on the upcoming seasons at the Theatre at Washington, that veteran gem of a music and theater venue, and the newer but no less intimate (and more adventurous) Theatre House on Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel’s farm in Castleton.

So yes, we know the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community (RAAC) screens monthly movies at the Theatre and puts on wildly entertaining community theater across the street at the RAAC (now with HVAC) Theatre – including “Driving Miss Daisy” this Friday and Saturday. But those are stories for another week.

The Theatre at Washington

The Theatre’s season has already begun (with the Cambridge American Stage Tour’s “Antony and Cleopatra” performances last weekend), but what remains is filled with highlights. Tickets for most performances this fall and winter are $25 ($10 for students 17 and younger), and reservations can be made at 540-675-1253 or theatreva@aol.com. The Theatre has about 200 comfortable seats, including balcony seating.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Russell Wilson offers an evening of ragtime and stride piano. Wilson is a member of the President’s Own U.S. Marine Band, and thus performs in public concerts and private events throughout the Washington, D.C. area. While you’re wondering if you should make your reservation, you might look up online how many people try to join the President’s Own Marine Band, and how many actually make it.

Oct. 6 brings the Smithsonian Chamber Players back for the next in the long-running and rewarding “Smithsonian at Little Washington” concerts, this one of Beethoven’s Trio in D Major, Faure’s Piano Quartet in C. Minor and more. Other classical evenings include pianist Naoko Takao’s program of Schubert’s Fantasie-Sonate in G Major and other works on Nov. 3, and the Castle Trio in a “Smithsonian at Little Washington” evening of Franz Schubert on Nov. 18 (the ensemble’s names may change, but rest assured that series mainstay Kenneth Slowik will be seated at his cello for both Smithsonian dates this season).

Fabulous jazz guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo are back again Dec. 1; comedian Mark Russell, always a favorite, will apparently have company on stage for his 5 p.m. Sunday show on Oct. 28 – that being Washington Mayor John Sullivan, who will apparently subject his friend Russell to “relentless interrogation,” plus the usual name-dropping, joke-telling and musical satire.

Soprano Jacqueline Neimat – another veteran Theatre-filler – brings a program of opera and Broadway favorites (and friends) on Oct. 20. And finally, on Nov. 17, our own Ben Jones plans to present “Ol’ Diz,” a new Americana musical about baseball great Dizzy Dean, with a book by the Harris Hollow actor, singer and former congressman himself, and music and lyrics by renowned singer-songwriter David Olney – plus a traditional string band.

Castleton Theatre House

The 200-plus-seat Theatre House, tucked between landscaped meadows on the Maazels’ 500-acre farm, makes good use of its off-the-beaten-path vibe by offering a more wide-ranging, smaller but longer season of performances – which start this weekend with the mesmerizing Latin Ballet of Virginia. The colorful and bracing troupe’s show at 8 p.m. this Saturday (Sept. 22) is a joint effort of Castleton and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the tickets – $35 and $50 – are standard this season at Theatre House.

In keeping with its tradition of learn-as-you-go brilliance, Castleton is offering a subscription plan this season – $140 for the $35 ticket level, $200 for the $50 level – for its six offerings September through February. Call 866-974-0767 or visit castletonfestival.org for more information.

In October, Theatre House continues its partnership with the Keyboard Trust to present a piano recital by Jianing Kong, a rising star from China, who’ll be performing Bach, Schumann, Prokofiev and Ravel. That’s at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7.

On Nov. 11 at 3 p.m., “My Love is as a Fever” promises an unusual collaboration: Renowned D.C. jazz pianist and composer Burnett Thompson has set 10 Shakespeare sonnets to music of many styles – jazz, salsa, Chinese traditional music, rock and roll and classical Viennese song – to be performed by one of China’s most sought-after vocalists, Coco Zhao, accompanied by Thompson’s ensemble.

Castleton plans to have the U.S. Army Chorus in the house on Saturday, Dec. 15, for a 7 p.m. holiday concert, and, further along in 2013 it’s jazz singer Stephanie Nakasian with the Hod O’Brien Trio on Jan. 26, and the Castleton Festival Chamber Players – drawn from some of the best players at Castleton’s annual summer festival – on Feb. 23. According to Dietlinde Maazel, there will be more events in March, April and May. While her husband travels between dates in Germany and Tokyo, conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and taking the cast of Castleton 2011’s “La Boheme” to Munich and the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman, Dietlinde Maazel says she’ll be at Theatre House to greet you this fall and winter.

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Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 534 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.