The town is Shirlington.
“I would maybe do this play anywhere on earth,” Lahti says. “It spoke to me that profoundly.”
“This play” is “Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill,” a new four-character drama of family dysfunction from the up-and-coming Paul Downs Colaizzo. And Lahti must love it: Otherwise why would she sign up for a run that starts Tuesday and continues into December? And not on Signature Theatre’s 270-seat main stage, which has showcased a musical theater star or two, but in its ultra-cozy 110-seat Ark space?
“This might be the smallest theater I’ve worked in since my off-off-Broadway days,” Lahti says, invoking her mid-1970s pay-your-dues jobs when she would sometimes be compensated with a couple of subway tokens.
“Mine, too, so it’s fine,” deadpans director Michael Kahn, longtime head of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, where Kahn is known for large-scale classical work. Kahn’s salad days in the 1960s included new plays in downtown New York spaces, too, a sensation he returned to with his current staging of “Torch Song Trilogy” at the Studio Theatre.
“The intimacy of it, not having to punch it out, is nice,” Kahn says by phone. “For Christine, because she loves the play so much, she chose to go where the play was being done.”
“That was remarkable,” Colaizzo enthuses from Los Angeles, where he’s working on a project for HBO. “She read the play and had to do the play. It wasn’t about anything else. That was such a compliment.”
Colaizzo, 28, shook up audiences last year with “Really Really,” a taut, twisting, he-said/she-said saga of drunken, amoral college kids. The play was a hit when it premiered at Signature, and had an acclaimed production off-Broadway earlier this year.
“Really Really” wasn’t exactly hot off Colaizzo’s laptop; he had written it years before. The same is true of “Autrey Mill,” which teases out the secrets of an upper-class family in a tony Atlanta suburb next-door to where Colaizzo grew up. The title refers to an actual development called The Falls of Autry Mill (no “e” in the real “Autry”); the Web site describes it as “a prestigious swim and tennis community.”
“I always thought it sounded like a woman falling down,” Colaizzo says of the enclave’s name.
Carly, the woman Colaizzo created for his play, is central as her husband and two sons confront her with enormous revelations. As soon as he knew Signature would produce the script, Colaizzo called his agent and said, “Who do you have that’s fabulous?”