A: “No Man’s Land.”
“That certainly is not the reason we chose it,” says Tom Prewitt, the new WSC Avant Bard artistic director, of Harold Pinter’s enigmatic 1975 drama.
“Would it sell more tickets if we said it was?” jokes actor Brian Hemmingsen.
With “No Man’s Land,” WSC Avant Bard is displaying an exceptionally united front. The production is anchored by three of the company’s artistic directors: director Prewitt, who started in February, actor Hemmingsen, who stepped down in 1996, and actor Christopher Henley, who ran things for the years in between.
The idea of doing “No Man’s Land” dates all the way to the 1980s, when Hemmingsen and Henley — who have performed together in more than 40 Washington area shows — put it on their long-term calendar for later life. Their moment finally arrived thanks to bad luck: Less than two years after WSC was ushered in as a resident company of Arlington County’s Artisphere (the old Newseum in Rosslyn), the county switched to an operational plan in December that pointedly left the theater company out. (The issues cited were sound buffering with an adjacent ballroom and Artisphere’s goal to make more income using the space for performances with shorter runs than WSC’s.)
The move forced WSC to “de-couple,” in Henley’s phrase, the two-play repertory scheduled for this spring. The ambitious one-two punch would have featured John Webster’s seldom-seen 17th-century revenge tragedy “The White Devil” with the brand new, classically tinged “Caesar and Dada,” by local playwright Allyson Currin. Neither show would have fit in the extremely tight Theatre on the Run.
Enter “No Man’s Land.” In the fall, Prewitt directed Hemmingsen in “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” and at the closing-night party, Hemmingsen planted the Pinter seed with Prewitt. When the Artisphere residency was yanked and a limited spring slot emerged at Theatre on the Run, “No Man’s Land” was on. Prewitt says, “We thought it would be a lot of fun for three generations of artistic directors to work together on this project.”
The attraction of the notoriously tricky Pinter seems clear enough as Prewitt, 56, Henley, 56, and Hemmingsen, 58, talk before a rehearsal. Exploring Pinter’s brusque style and elusive meaning in this drama — about four men “marooned together in a room,” Prewitt says, with their relationships unclear, but vaguely threatening — plainly trumps the sober chat about the hazards of running WSC.
“I think it still has the same sensibility we started out with,” says Hemmingsen, one of the eight people who founded the company in 1990. (Henley has long been the last founder still actively connected with the troupe; Hemmingsen’s return as an actor is recent.) “It’s kind of scrappy. It’s always fighting an uphill battle.”