At GALA Hispanic Theatre, telling Roberto Clemente’s story


Modesto Lacen and Xiomara Rodriguez in the GALA Hispanic Theatre production “DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story.” (Lonnie D. Tague)
April 16, 2013

Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican baseball legend, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and died at the age of 38 in a plane crash; he was en route to Nicaragua on a humanitarian aid mission. The Jackie Robinson of Puerto Rico inspired Luis Caballero, also a Puerto Rican native, to write and direct “DC-7: The Roberto Clemente Story,” named for the icon and the plane in which he was killed.

“He was an activist,” said Caballero, whose latest production of “DC-7” begins its run at GALA Hispanic Theatre on Thursday. “He fought for human rights, especially for Latinos and African Americans.” Clemente played in the majors from the mid-1950s until he died in 1972. “He became part of this world and [he] defended minorities through his voice.”

Caballero signed on to bring “DC-7” to GALA after he stepped in with only four weeks left in rehearsals to direct last year’s “Puerto Rico . . . ¡fua!” He’d directed the show’s off-Broadway and Puerto Rican productions, as well.

“DC-7” is performed bilingually, with English surtitles. Caballero described Clemente’s success as “a universal language” but added that he intimately understood the discrimination Clemente faced as a Spanish speaker in United States.

Caballero said that when he moved to New York from Puerto Rico in 1991, “I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t even know how to ask for food. It was very hard for me to survive in a different culture. . . . When you speak the language but are not proficient, basically you have no personality. Because when it comes out, it’s rough. So in that way, you have to start fighting because language defines who you are. And if you don’t speak the language in the country you are living with, you are something different.”

Caballero worked closely with Clemente’s widow and brother.

“I think they trusted me,” Caballero said. “It was a connection. . . . I knew that it was a big responsibility, and I wanted to honor that information that they gave to me.”

Thursday to May 26, 3333 14th St. NW, galatheatre.org, 202-234-7174

Kahn’s Signature moment

Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer has tapped a scrappy up-and-comer to direct next season’s world premiere of “Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill,” a new play by Paul Downs Colaizzo, whose “Really Really” was produced at MCC Theater in New York and nabbed him this year’s Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical at that Helen Hayes shindig.

I am speaking, of course, of Michael Kahn.

A literalist may wish to interrupt here and point out that Kahn has been the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company for more than 25 years. However, it’s been heavy on the classics and light on the contemporary for Kahn for quite a while.

This wasn’t the first time Schaeffer had reached out, Kahn said, but all the previous offers “were rivals that didn’t grab me, or things that I could have done at Shakespeare.”

“Autrey Mill” was “exactly what I wanted to do: work on a brand-new contemporary play by a really good young writer,” said Kahn.

Even Kahn cannot avoid the world’s most obvious pun regarding his fandom of Colaizzo’s first Signature show (“I saw ‘Really Really,’ which I really, really liked”) and “I sort of wondered if the playwright really wanted to work with a guy my age.”

Turns out he fretted for nothing. “We met and just got along tremendously.”

Despite the blockbuster status of “Really Really” — it’s the most successful nonmusical Signature has ever produced — Schaeffer says he and Colaizzo didn’t discuss including “Autrey Mill” in the 2013-14 season until last October.

When Schaeffer read the play, he says he loved it right away. “I think it’s a much bigger palette that he’s working on,” Schaeffer said. “The themes that he’s dealing with are much stronger and bigger.”

As for seeking out Kahn, “it’s great for Washington theater” to bring in artistic directors from other theaters, said Schaeffer. “Why should we have our best people go elsewhere for work? Let’s provide opportunities here.”

Kahn is looking forward to the simple pleasures of modern storytelling. “I suppose I’ll be really glad to do a play [that] has a sofa, and a closet, and a patio chair. And, actually, a bathroom,” where a whole scene takes place. “I don’t get to do that in Shakespeare.”

WSC plans reading series

For the first time since its 2009-10 “Sort-of-Jane Austen”-themed venture, WSC Avant Bard is producing a reading series.

“There was a great groundswell of enthusiasm among the acting company to revive these readings,” said artistic director Tom Prewitt.

Why now? “I wanted to signal to the general public, and especially to longtime fans of WSC, that the fact that we were kicked out of Artisphere was not going to slow us down [or] keep us from moving ahead with our vision of the kind of aggressive, offbeat, adventuresome theater company that WSC Avant Bard has always been.” (WSC was the company in residence at Artisphere for two years when, last December, it was forced out as a result of changes in Artisphere’s business model.)

Prewitt hopes to use the reading series to gauge the reaction of the acting company — “I want to be choosing projects that they can really sink their teeth into” — and the audience to determine what, if any, of the four plays could be produced in future seasons.

The Gaurav Gopalan Reading Series is named for the theater artist and aeronautical engineer who was found beaten to death in Columbia Heights at the age of 35 two Septembers ago. Gopalan directed and volunteered at WSC (then the Washington Shakespeare Company) and “WSC really wanted to honor him,” said acting company member Sara Barker. “He touched so many people’s lives.”

All readings are free to the public. They include:

Orlando

by Sarah Ruhl, adapted from the novel by Virginia Woolf; 8 p.m. Wednesday at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.

The Widow Ranter

by Aphra Behn; 8 p.m. May 6 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington.

Beowulf

Adapted by Lynn Sharp Spears, based on the Seamus Heaney translation; 8 p.m. June 1 at Lubber Run Fire Ring, Lubber Run Park, entrance at North Columbus Street and North Second Street, Arlington.

Friendship Betrayed

by María de Zayas y Sotomayor; 8 p.m. July 1 at Catholic University’s Callan Theatre, 3801 Harewood Rd. NE.

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