It's turning out to be a banner year for Will Gartshore. Last week, the actor nabbed two Helen Hayes Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Musical for his work in Signature Theatre's Pacific Overtures and Urinetown. "I have to decide if I'm going to wear a rip-away shirt under my tux," laughs the Canadian-born Gartshore, referring to his Urinetown character's penchant for tearing open his shirt -- revealing a perfectly ripped torso -- during every romantic ballad.
Currently, however, he's Warren, a well-meaning father who accidentally creates a crisis, causing his son to be abducted by an evil, nightmarish force known as The Sandman, in Woolly Mammoth's intense, paranoia-suffused production of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Velvet Sky.
"It's a dark fairy tale," says Gartshore of Sky. "Roberto combines the mythic with pop culture in his plays, so they resonate [with audiences]. This play is about fear -- which is culturally relevant right now. Whether it's snipers or anthrax or planes crashing into buildings, there seems to be this external, supernatural terror in our lives. This notion is what Roberto is talking about."
After Sky, Gartshore will finish out the season at Signature in The Sex Habits of American Women followed by a plum role in the company's season closer, Stephen Sondheim's Assassins.
The golden-voiced actor, who is gay and who gave up a potential Broadway career for a life on stage in Washington, D.C., admits he's "not making a fortune down here." But he seems genuinely happy with his choice.
"On Broadway, you get the paycheck every week, and that's fulfilling for your bank account," he says. "But here I've had opportunities to do more work than had I stayed up there. So career-wise it's been a no-brainer for me to stay.
"It's like a dream in a lot of ways," he continues, "because the theater in D.C. is really good -- and it's backed by a strong theater community. But you're also not being swamped by all those hundreds of thousands of [young actors] running to New York every year who think they can make it there."
The Velvet Sky runs through March 5 at Woolly Mammoth, 641 D St. NW. The theater will host a special Gay & Lesbian night with a reception, this Sunday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. Call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net.