Backstage: ‘Hercules in Russia’; ‘Anna in the Tropics’; ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Wallenstein’


Andrew Ferlo in Doorway Arts Ensemble's "Hercules in Russia." (Perry T. Schwartz/DOORWAY ARTS ENSEMBLE)
January 31, 2012

Sixteen years ago, Allyson Currin read a book. Specifically, she read a paragraph. The book, “Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty” by Robert K. Massie, contained a reference — a fleeting, skim-and-you-miss it shout-out — to Jim Hercules, an African American who left his home in Alabama for St. Petersburg and developed a relationship with the czar’s family.

Currin contacted Massie, wanting to know more, and he replied that everything he knew about Jim Hercules was in his book.

“It’s a good thing we don’t know more about this character,” he said to her. “Because now you can make it up.”

Currin’s play, inspired by the paragraph, is “Hercules in Russia,” which will have its world premiere with the Doorway Arts Ensemble.

Although the play occurs in the context of real events, “we’re legitimately in historical fiction land,” she said. “I invented this Jim for myself. . . . [Even] the name to me always sounded like an alias.”

Her Jim Hercules winds up in the czarist court of Nicholas II as Russia is on the verge of revolution. He becomes close with the czar’s second-oldest daughter, Tatiana, while realizing that the Romanov dynasty has created in Russia a system eerily familiar to the segregated America he had left behind.

“He takes his life by the reins and tries to make a life for himself outside of where he came from,” said Ricardo Evans, who plays Hercules. The Russian Revolution “opens up a floodgate of memories for him.”

“Historically, we have no idea why [Hercules] left the U.S.,” Currin said. “In my text, it’s revealed to be in terms of his personal tragedy. A very large part of his [self-examination] is that he’s discovering himself in a new reality that is every bit as horrific as the one he came from.

Hercules “is an epic character in my imagination,” she said. “ . . . Because he’s tossed about by waves of history, but he’s a world wanderer and he’s a soul wanderer. He’s one of those unknowable people.”

Feb. 10-March 4, Theater 2 in the Cultural Art Center, Montgomery College, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring;
doorwayarts.org; 301-530-4349.

Found in translation

GALA Hispanic Theatre’s production of “Anna in the Tropics” marks the first time the Pulitzer Prize-winning play will be performed in Spanish in the District. It will also be more than one notable firsts for star Veronica del Cerro: her first play in Spanish and her first play at GALA.“It’s a modern classic,” she said of “Anna.” “When I first read the script, it spoke to me immediately.”

Her character, Conchita, “has been rationalizing everything to the point that passion doesn’t have to be a part of her life anymore. She’s rationalized the lack of it. . . . She’s a dreamer, and she knows and is aware of her passions, but she doesn’t let herself feel it.”

Director Jose Carrasquillo said of Conchita: “She is a woman who is coming out of that shell and embraces life the way she always thought it was supposed to be embraced. She has all these passions, and this outsider brings them out of her, through this book.”

The play was performed at Arena Stage in 2004, but that production was in English. The Spanish, said Carrasquillo, infuses the play with a different kind of power.

“In Spanish, the poetry is so vibrant and yet so specific, it really allows for the play to be actually done in a style other than realism,” he said. “When it is done in English, it’s done in a naturalistic, realistic way.’’

Coming Sunday in the Arts section: David Montgomery talks to playwright Nilo Cruz about translating “Anna in the Tropics” into Spanish.

Feb. 9-March 4, 3333 14th St. NW; galatheatre.org; 202-234-7174.

Season announcements

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 2012-13 season will bring a return to repertory productions, to Artistic Director Michael Kahn’s delight.

The Hero/Traitor Repertory, as part of the new Clarice Smith Repertory Series, will feature productions of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” and former poet laureate Robert Pinsky’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s “Wallenstein.”

Both plays address nations at war and the issue of loyalty: heroes of the battlefield who, for reasons personal or political, find themselves at odds with their home team.

“It’s interesting to me: Where your loyalty lies, what’s the truth, what is war really like?” Kahn said. “I wanted to bring [these plays] together to work in conversation with each other.”

The upcoming season will include two other works by Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Winter’s Tale,” along with Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman.”

Olney Theatre Center’s 2012 season will kick off with “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” on Feb. 22. An adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” will open in April. The summer will feature the thriller “Sleuth” and the comic musical about a man-eating plant, “Little Shop of Horrors.” “Over the Tavern” and “Cinderella” will close out the year.

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