Editors' pick

The Dumb Waiter and Trifles

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Editorial Review

After an unexpected start, a theater troupe finds its home
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, July 20, 2012

The Washington area is experiencing a significant boomlet of sprightly, young theater troupes, some spawned by the Capital Fringe Festival and bolstered by new performance spaces across the region.

The gen­esis of Maryland’s Unexpected Stage Company, however, can be credited to a more, well, unexpected source: a fussy baby.

Rachel Stroud-Goodrich and Christopher Goodrich, thespians whose paths first crossed while the two were working in theater in Vermont and who eventually married, moved to Montgomery County a few years ago to be near family. When their young daughter, Mayzie, refused to sleep in her crib at bedtime, the pair regularly packed her up in the car and took her for a ride -- one night ending up at Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg.

“We were just trying to go somewhere to calm her down,” Stroud-Goodrich says, “and we came across this great outdoor stage that’s hidden away a little bit, and it just looked so inviting.”

Instantly, the couple recalls, that old itch resurfaced. “We wondered if anything was happening at this stage,” says her husband, who had directed small productions for years in New York. “It turned out it wasn’t, so we started a theater company. . . . What else would we do?”

The first season of Unexpected Stage was one production, Christopher Fry’s “A Phoenix Too Frequent.” The verse-driven comedy, set in a tomb, was practically made for the rustic park stage, to hear the couple tell it. Last year, the pair returned with “Candy and Dorothy,” a comedy the troupe performed at VisArts in Rockville. With each production, the company’s mission was strengthened: The plays the couple would choose would explore the connections between people.

On Friday, Unexpected Stage moves into yet another venue, the Randolph Road Theatre in Silver Spring -- the company’s first traditional, indoor theater -- to stage its third production, a double bill that also reflects the mission: Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter,” paired with “Trifles,” a 1916 one-act based on true reportage by its writer, Susan Glaspell.

Both struck the Goodriches for their menacing, near-noir plotlines; but Pinter’s play is written for two male primary characters, where Glaspell’s piece rests on the interaction between two women.

“The Pinter play is looking at the moments leading up to a crime and violence,” says Stroud-Goodrich, “and ‘Trifles’ is actually the aftermath, so it’s a nice trajectory for the evening.”

Pinter’s work, in particular, she says, is “so intricate; there’s an amazing amount of tension and suspense between these two characters and, really, Pinter just blows your mind.”

Both shows will be directed by Goodrich and performed by one set of actors, making the evening an interesting challenge for all. Running their own troupe with a young family and day jobs -- Goodrich also teaches English and theater at Northwood High School -- is “a lot of stress, it’s a lot of anxiety,” he says. But, he adds, “It’s a labor of love, and it’s something we just have to do.”

The region’s vibrant theater scene has more than provided for their vision: The actors, Goodrich says, “are all really good. . . . We’ve flirted many times with going to New York, but we’ve always found everything we need here.

“There’s just a vibe here, and it seems to be growing,” he says. “When I was in New York, there’s, like, a theater company on every street corner there. That’s one reason I didn’t want to start a theater company in New York. It’s, like, ‘What’s the point?’ That’s like opening another Starbucks.”

In Washington, Goodrich says, “there are big theater companies here, but there’s still room for other companies to come in, which is so neat.”