“I’ve known her 23 years,” said Eric Schaeffer, the theater’s artistic director, who first worked with Gardner during the run of “Mill Fire.” She volunteered to spearhead a program for new plays, he said, “and the rest is history.”
“She had endless energy,” he added, recalling how the Signature staff gave Gardner an iPad when she was in the hospital — she had been sick since June — so she could stay involved with the theater. As recently as two weeks ago, Schaeffer said, she had a running list of questions for him about Signature’s upcoming productions. “She was on top of it. She never stopped.”
Gardner was a devoted colleague and a passionate supporter of D.C. playwrights. “The hardest thing in theater is people all want to talk,” Schaeffer said. “She was a really great listener.”
She was 66, although perhaps she wouldn’t have been thrilled at the thought of her age being printed in the newspaper. “She never wanted anyone to know her age,” Schaeffer said. “The insurance company called [HR] once to check her birthday, because they had three birth dates for her.”
Her work as Signature’s education director “touched over 10,000 kids and introduced them to the theater,” he said. “It’s really life-changing.”
Gardner will be remembered as an integral part of D.C. theater. “She was a great team spirit,” Schaeffer said.
Straight on till morning
When Michael Lluberes revisited “Peter Pan” as an adult, he saw blood.
“The first thing that jumped out was how bloody it was,” he said. “How sad parts of it were, and how true it was.”
Lluberes adapted J.M. Barrie’s classic as No Rules Theatre Company’s “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers,” a show he is also directing. While working on his script, Lluberes uprooted Barrie’s family tree and uncovered more dirt than the unsuspecting reader might expect. When Barrie was 6, his brother died on the eve of his 14th birthday. His mother, Lluberes said, became “inconsolable, and Barrie would dress up as his dead brother for his mother. The brother who died became this kind of symbol. The only comfort she found was that he would stay a child forever, he would never grow up. . . . It’s really the ghost of the play, this brother, and the mother who lost the child and is trying to find him again.”
It’s through this dark lens that “The Boy Who Hated Mothers” sees the story you probably know by heart. Lluberes’s interpretation begins with the death of Michael, the youngest brother (in the animated Disney version, he is the toddler in the pink onesie, clutching the paw of his teddy bear) and the surviving Darling children’s desire to escape their gloomy reality.
During Lluberes’s research, he discovered that one of Barrie’s original titles for the play was “The Boy Who Hated Mothers.” The line, though ultimately shelved, resonated with Lluberes. He cited the story behind Peter’s desire to sit on Wendy’s windowsill, his dream of being invited in. The last time Peter tried to return home from Neverland, he found that his mother had locked his bedroom window. He watched her tend to her new baby, seemingly oblivious to and unconcerned with his absence.
“At the root of Peter is the secret that he has a deep longing for his mother,” Lluberes said. The play, then, “is this sort of revenge fantasy between him and his mother.”
For its magic, the show will utilize the same tool of children bored in bedrooms everywhere: imagination, and little else. “No harnesses, no wires,” Lluberes promised. “My thing is, how did you fly when you were a kid? How did you imagine flying?”
He’s thinking of applying the same principle to Tinkerbell, creating her with “pure audience participation.”
“I keep saying [this play] is dark, dark, dark,” he said. “But it’s also a playground of the imagination. . . . As much as the play is about the pain of growing up, it’s also about the power of theater, how theater can transform.”
Feb. 8-March 3, H Street Playhouse, 1365 H Street NE; www.
Nice day for a red wedding
In Constellation Theatre Company’s “Blood Wedding,” death is onstage from the very beginning. Death, in this case, is a man. The moon, too, is personified (unsurprisingly, as a woman); she wears a white veil and, thanks to the set’s construction, is elevated in the space.
“These huge conceptual ideas are manifest,” said Allison Stockman, Constellation’s artistic director. “There’s a combination of helping our actors find the humanity of it and, at the same time, trying to lift it out of the everyday.”
The play shouldn’t have much trouble being lifted out of the everyday, with its soap-opera scope and murderous themes. “Blood Wedding” follows two feuding families and a betrayal on one man’s wedding day; his bride-to-be runs off with a man from the rival clan with whom she was once romantically involved. (This is why you never invite exes to the wedding.)
“There’s a mirror of the bride and the groom, a romantic couple, in the relationship of the moon and death,” Stockman said.
“It’s epic,” she continued. “It’s a timeless tale of forbidden love . . . and the writing goes, in one moment, from passion and anger and desire to things that are very funny, even sort of silly.”
Though the threat of murder looms over the characters, much of the violence happens offstage, Greek-tragedy style. In an effort to “embrace the sense of ceremony” inspired by the failed wedding at the show’s beginning, the play will incorporate original live music.
Even though the play was written in 1933, the story fits right into 2012, “especially in a place that can be as polarized as Washington can be,” Stockman said. “Death begets death, fighting begets fighting, and maybe there’s a more peaceful way to coexist.”
Feb. 2-March 4, 1835 14th Street NW; www.constellationtheatre