No Rules will move to Signature Theatre in Arlington

July 31, 2012

It’s been a week of accidental scoops in theaterland.

First, Mayor Vincent C. Gray let it slip that the H Street Playhouse would be relocating to Anacostia — days before owner Adele Robey had planned to announce the move.

Then, in discussing whether the companies that performed at H Street would follow the theater to its new location, Robey revealed that No Rules Theatre Company had decided to be in residence at Signature Theatre in Arlington, just days before No Rules and Signature were going to spread the news.

“At first — and we’re glad it’s not the case — we’d heard H Street was closing,” said Brian Sutow, co-artistic director of No Rules. “We knew we were in need of a new home.” The No Rules team sat down with director Aaron Posner, “a mentor [of ours],” said Sutow, who suggested that No Rules reach out to Signature. “He said, ‘Why don’t you shoot for the stars?’ ”

Maggie Boland, Signature’s managing director, said the timing was “a stroke of serendipity,” as No Rules approached Signature while “we were right in the middle of season planning.”

“What Eric [Schaeffer, artistic director,] and I were really excited about is that there’s a lot of synchronicity between what No Rules is like now and what Signature was like 20 years ago. Eric is very excited for us to be able to give them the resources and infrastructure that Signature didn’t have,” Boland said. “What I love is that a young, hungry company like No Rules can come in and . . . they can give us a little jolt of entrepreneurial energy.”

No Rules will pay “a very modest rent” based on the weeks it uses Signature’s rehearsal rooms and theaters, Boland said. No Rules will have a presence in Signature’s office all year round “as part of the partnership.” The plan is for No Rules to produce three shows per season, all of which will be held in the ARK Theatre. Except for handling fees, No Rules will keep all its box office proceeds.

“As long as Signature doesn’t lose money, we’ll make it work,” Boland said. “We’re totally committed to making it work for the next three years and being as flexible as possible.”

Sutow said No Rules is excited about the wider audience the troupe will be able to reach by relocating to Signature, although “I hope that people will follow us from our former home.” He acknowledged that “there was always a challenge of getting people out to H Street.” The move to Arlington “presents an easier opportunity for people to connect with our art.”

The No Rules season will be “exactly what we’d be doing at H Street,” he said. “From the get-go, we both said, [they] don’t want to ever infringe upon what [we] would be programming, and that’s important to us.”

“Black Comedy” will open the No Rules season in February, followed by “The Personal(s),” a world premiere adaptation by Sutow, in late April. “The No Rules Show,” a “wild and crazy cabaret [that’s] half-revue, half-talk show with a different celebrity guest every night and Joshua [Morgan, No Rules’ co-artistic director,] at the piano,” will close out the season in July.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’

“I tell people that ‘Little Shop’ is one of the very best musicals ever written,” said Mark Waldrop, who is directing “Little Shop of Horrors” at Olney Theatre Center. “A lot of times people say, ‘What, are you crazy?’ But I truly believe it has everything.”

Most people probably know “Little Shop” either from the 1986 movie (which Waldrop deemed “sort of overblown”) or from a school or summer camp production, where the cast and crew “end up treating it all as a cartoon,” Waldrop said. “When this show is done right, it’s not only hilarious and sort of grotesquely horrific, but it’s also heartbreaking.”

“People think they know the show,” said Waldrop, which is to say, people know the plot: A shy boy is in love with a girl who, abiding by the Rules of Musical Theater, has a jerk for a boyfriend. The shy boy gets his hands on a vampiric plant from outer space (you know, just another day at the office) that requires blood instead of water to survive. The creature grows in size, and — as blood-eating plants are apparently wont to do — its hunger for blood skyrockets, resulting in an ever-increasing body count.

Waldrop is aware that the idea sounds a little silly. “I think the general population thinks it’s a lot of fun; it’s light, it’s fizzy, it’s a puppet show.” But he said that like many a silly-sounding premise (see also: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Harry Potter”), “Little Shop’s” campy surface belies a complicated, thought-provoking narrative.

His game plan to do justice to his favorite show is this: “My hope is to really fire on all cylinders: Get the heart, get the comedy, get some horror with teeth. It’s not a kiddie show,” he warned. “It’s a dark, adult show.”

Not that audiences should expect the show to be humorless. “You have to deliver those elements,” Waldrop said. “But those funny moments take on a different character and shine even brighter if you contrast them to something that’s darker and more troubling. Like a jewel shows up against black velvet.”

Wednesday to Aug. 26; 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney; 301-924-3400; www.olneytheatre.org.

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