For WSC Avant Bard’s ‘Six Characters,’ mother, father and son all get into the act

( Colin Hovde ) - Brian Hemmingsen and Sara Barker in WSC Avant Bard’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”

Don’t worry about the Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen family. Yes, in the WSC Avant Bard production of “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” their familial relations are very, very dysfunctional. Like if Oedipus Rex could un-scratch-out his eyes and watch this play, he’d probably say, “Wow, rough break.”

Real-life husband and wife Nanna Ingvarsson and Brian Hemmingsen play a mother and father. Which sounds lovely, until Ingvarsson’s and Hemmingsen’s characters have a baby that the mother is forced to abandon. Hemmingsen’s character forces his wife into prostitution, then kicks her out of their home, only to become obsessed with her new family, taking a particular stalker-y interest in her older daughter.

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Then Ingvarsson’s character’s new husband dies, leaving her poverty-stricken. Through (another) series of unfortunate events, the daughter winds up working in a whorehouse where — sorry, it gets worse — the evil ex-husband is a regular customer.

On the bright side, all is well and functional at the real Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen household. Ingvarsson and Hemmingsen have been acting together since the late 1980s, though they disagree on how many shows this one makes for them (she says 25; he thinks it’s closer to 40). They were pleasantly surprised when their 14-year-old son, Sebastian, expressed interest in auditioning for the show, despite the fact that his part, the son of Ingvarsson’s character, is a non-speaking role.

“I decided we can just make [the play] a family activity,” Ingvarsson said. Their son “can see why his parents are so weird and crazy all the time.”

“It was tougher than I thought,” Sebastian Ingvarsson-Hemmingsen said. “Because I had to go to rehearsal a lot. I had to stay home some days to do homework because I didn’t have time to do it on rehearsal and show days.”

Hemmingsen, who first saw his wife onstage in a 1984 performance of “Hamlet” (the attraction “was instantaneous,” he remembered, which probably did not go over well with his date), says his wife is “one of my favorite actors to work with.”

As for the newest thespian in the family, “I’m proud of my son,” he said. “It’s not an easy feat, but he pulls it off.”

Through Dec. 9. 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. www.wscavantbard.org, 703-418-4808.

A ‘Game’ the audience plays, too

Dog & Pony DC’s “A Killing Game” isn’t a play that you watch. It’s a play that you play.

“A traditional play, as much as I’m loath to say this, can be done without an audience,” said Rachel Grossman, one of the artistic heads of Dog & Pony DC. “And if we don’t have an audience, we can’t do three or four scenes in the show. Literally, there’s no way of executing them.”

The premise: Both audience and actors are residents of a town. The inciting incident: A plague suddenly starts killing citizens at random and sans reason. The result: a study of how humans react to crisis.

Audience members at “A Killing Game” are given cue cards, some of which tell them when and how to die. They are also encouraged to bring smartphones and iPads to follow the end of the world on Twitter, where rumors and paranoia speedily spread, perhaps even outpacing the plague.

It’s an absurdist production, inspired by our cultural obsession with the end of the world (whether through a “Contagion”-style epidemic, nuclear winter or zombie apocalypse), as well as by Eugene Ionesco’s play of the same name, Orson Welles’s 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast and the card game Fluxx — whose rules, as its name suggests, are constantly changing. And it ramps up the interactivity level from Dog & Pony DC’s previous effort, “Beertown.”

“We were interested in doing something not like anything we’d done before,” Grossman said.

For all of the talk in theaterland of how live performance is special — unique from such passive pastimes as television and movies — because the audience and actors are both there in the flesh, laughing and feeding off each other’s energy, it’s rare to see a production actually capitalize on the fact that living, breathing souls are in the seats and on the stage. More often than not, audience members aren’t required to do anything except show up and be quiet. Which is . . . exactly what they do at the movies.

“We really wanted to get to the idea that we’re playing a party game,” as in, a social endeavor, director Colin K. Bills said. “The whole goal of a party game is constant conversation and constant interaction. . . . So I kind of took the leap of comparing that to a theater experience, which is supposed to be a social experience — you go with friends, a significant other, family — you’re there to experience something communally. Except when you walk in the theater and the lights go down, you shut up.

“That seems problematic to me, because you have all these people together experiencing something as a group, and you cut off all of the stuff that’s supposed to be about living in a society and having a communal experience.”

Bills compared it to a sporting event, where you can watch the game and talk with others in the stands at the same time.

“Most theater that we go to see today is about shutting up once the lights turn off,” he said. “And I am not interested in having the audience shut up once the lights go off.”

Through Dec. 22. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street SE. www.­dogandponydc.com , 202-204-7772.

Imagination Stage gets NEA grant

Imagination Stage is receiving an NEA Art Works grant to support its upcoming production of “Anime Momotaro.” At $30,000, it’s the largest National Endowment for the Arts grant ever awarded to the theater and is one of 832 grants totaling $23.3 million given to arts organizations across the country.

“Anime Momotaro” premiered in Honolulu last year; Imagination Stage will bring Eric Johnson, the artistic director of the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, and his colleague Alvin Chang to Bethesda to aid with the production.

“Anime Momotaro” will run from Jan. 30 through March 10.

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