Like others who attend theater in this town, I have relationships with many actors in Washington — only they don’t know it. One of the pleasures of a fairly compact theater community is that you can grow to be on intimate terms with actors and their singular styles, and when, after a while, they have the opportunity to reveal to an audience other facets of their capabilities, the epiphany is deep and personal. Who knew that classical actress belted like Patti LuPone? Isn’t that actor getting laughs in the LaBute play the one I just saw carrying a scabbard in “Macbeth’’?
The potential in the city for a diet of rewarding, substantive work is the force that draws actors and, increasingly, holds them here. And why, in a sustained career, so many actors in Washington develop stage muscles that ripple. The downside, at least for them, is that as a source for other acting options, in TV and film, Washington continues to be a backwater. Some actors make ends meet recording books. Others land gigs in government training films. Others teach or write or secure regular office jobs.
Some even end up leaving, for New York or Hollywood. But a surprising and gratifying number stay — or live close enough to become pretty much permanent fixtures in the region’s diverse assortment of rehearsal rooms, green rooms and dressing rooms.
The accompanying portraits are a salute to all of those who try to make it here — again and again. Space would not permit us to fill a Sunday Arts gallery with all the deserving players, so as another theater season begins, we’ve unscientifically chosen a dozen from among the region’s talented cadres, who’ve all earned the distinction of being Washington actors. They’re not meant to be the top 12, or the most illustrious dozen. But they’re all good at what they do. They’re veterans or relatively new to the game; they’re singers, acrobats, chameleons, clowns. Some are all of the above. Some have qualities that are harder to define, and yet all of them possess some facet of an ineffable magnetism that makes watching them a pleasure.
In the pair of characters assigned to her in “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer-winning examination of racial attitudes in two epochs, Ursula gave the Woolly Mammoth Theatre production its humility and then its bite. In the first act she was the housekeeper for a white middle-class family of the ’50s, absorbing the indignities — intended or not — meted out by her white employers and their neighbors. In the second, she played a fiercer, more confident character of the present day, a woman dreading the arrival to her community of affluent white couples, disconnected from the struggles of the neighborhood’s black families.