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Round House, Acting on Its Literary Ambitions

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page C05

Round House Theatre's incoming artistic director has announced his 2005-06 debut season and his plans to distinguish the company's two venues.

Blake Robison, who takes over from Jerry Whiddon in June, will launch a five-year "literary works initiative" to foster adaptations of classic and contemporary works at the 400-seat main stage in Bethesda. He also plans a major change of focus at the experimental "black box" venue in Silver Spring.

Incoming Artistic Director Blake Robison has big plans for Round House Theatre in 2005-06. (Stan Barouh -- Round House Theatre)

"We're trying very hard to create more distinct identities between the two spaces," says Robison. He intends to produce only two shows per season in Silver Spring, with an accent on international theater. The rest of the year, he says, he intends to "make that facility available to D.C.'s finest theater artists . . . to come and create," largely free of charge, in workshops, readings and other "arts incubator" uses.

In Bethesda, Round House's subscription season will open with "Camille" (Sept. 14-Oct. 16), adapted in "very contemporary and vivid language," Robison says, by British playwright Neil Bartlett from Alexandre Dumas fils' "La Dame aux Camelias." Robison will direct.

The family-friendly musical "A Year With Frog and Toad" (Nov. 16-Dec. 18) will cover most of the holiday season. Directed by Nick Olcott, it is based on the children's books by Arnold Lobel; its book and lyrics are by Willie Reale and its music by Robert Reale.

"Midwives" (Feb. 1-March 3) will be a regional premiere of Dana Yeaton's adaptation of the novel by Chris Bohjalian. It is about a midwife charged with manslaughter after a birth goes wrong. Mark Ramont, Ford's Theatre associate producer, will direct.

British playwright William Nicholson's three-character drama about the disintegration of a 30-year marriage, "Retreat From Moscow" (March 29-April 30, 2006), is "in many ways a classic Round House play" that will require "good, intimate, specific acting," Robison says.

The Bethesda season will finish with a world premiere musical, "A Murder, a Mystery & a Marriage: A Mark Twain Musical Melodrama" (May 31-July 2, 2006). The show will be a co-production with the Delaware Theatre Company. The book and lyrics are by Aaron Posner and the music by James Sugg. Posner, of Philadelphia's Arden Theatre Company, will direct.

The fall show in Silver Spring will be Eugene Ionesco's "The Chairs" (Oct. 12-Nov. 13), staged in English by French director Alain Timar. As for the spring show, a still-to-be-determined new play by an American playwright, Robison hopes it will feature Whiddon.

Imagination Stage's Expanding Orbit

They're fiddling with flashing lights and digital video projections at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, rehearsing the science fiction play "Callisto 5," which opens Saturday and runs through April 2. Robert Klingelhoefer's greenish, industrial-design space-station set has a "Dr. Who" look.

And no wonder: British dramatist Alan Ayckbourn wrote the 1990 play. In the 75-minute piece, a teenage boy named Jem sits stranded on Jupiter's outermost satellite, going a little bonkers because his parents left nine years earlier on an emergency mission. Except for a talking computer and a nanny robot who treats him like he's 8, Jem is going solo.

"Jem is trying to survive the best he can," says director Eric Johnson. "The best science fiction is all about metaphor, and this is a fascinating way to think about childhood and growing up."

Eben Kuhns, the 16-year-old who plays Jem, says: "It's a neat set, just to be on. . . . It is fun. I have a lot of lines. I'm there [onstage] most of the time." A home-schooled kid from the Mount Vernon area, Kuhns says he has acted since he was 8, mostly in community theater. He says his character Jem is so alone that "he comes across as almost mentally disturbed" at times.

Unlike most of Imagination Stage's shows, "Callisto 5" is geared to kids 9 and older. "Ayckbourn isn't one to talk down to kids," Johnson says.

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