Get Ready for Drama, On and Off the Stage

Springfield Community Theatre's Michael Fisher, Kristine Cornils and Herb Tax in the drama
Springfield Community Theatre's Michael Fisher, Kristine Cornils and Herb Tax in the drama "Judgment at Nuremberg," an infrequently staged story of the war crimes trial of senior Nazis. The show, which opens this weekend, is the first of the season. (By Zina Bleck)
By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 21, 2006

Twelve theater companies. At least 34 plays and musicals spanning the spectrum from intense drama to bright comedy. That's the 2006-07 Fairfax County theater season that opens this weekend with a drama from Springfield Community Theatre and winds down late next summer when Elden Street Players in Herndon stages an offbeat musical. But much attention will be focused on the continuing turmoil at the Alden Theatre in McLean.

This season could bring a merger of two established troupes performing at the Alden Theatre, and another at that stage has barely missed going dark. Great Falls Players and CAST in McLean are combining. This is partly a result of strict goals mandated by the Alden that some local theater participants argue are unattainable. These include standards for the number of tickets sold and the involvement of local people in cast and crews. If the merger is finalized, Great Falls Players, a group operating since 1964, and CAST, a relative newcomer incorporated in 1992, will cease to exist. In their place would be a new entity, McLean Community Players.

Claire Kiley, performing arts director at the Alden Theatre, sees the merger positively. "Groups seem to do better when the groups can join forces and work together," she said. "I think it's a good thing, and I think that they'll probably be a stronger group."

McLean Theatre Alliance will survive. The group had begun the process of dissolving its charter after its leadership left, dismayed by the new Alden rules. But with just weeks left before the charter was to lapse, a group of theater activists stepped in and created a new slate of officers and board.

Losing one of the troupe's usual two performance slots at the Alden for this season, the new MTA has until spring to prepare its first show, the musical "Guys and Dolls." Unfortunately for the troupe, the well-established American Music Stage group in Annandale is also presenting "Guys and Dolls" that month, which may dampen ticket sales in McLean. But new co-president Lauren-Nicole Gabel isn't discouraged: "Time is definitely on our side. We're going to be spending the next few months reaching out to the past members of MTA, a very large membership base, to give everyone an opportunity to get involved. And we'll do some PR in the community so everyone will know MTA is not disappearing."

Another group, McLean Drama Company, also performs at the Alden and is being allowed one weekend for a show next summer. The production has not been announced.

On an artistic level, the calendar promises a mix of comfortable old favorites and newer material. Springfield Community Theatre kicks off the season this weekend with the complex courtroom drama "Judgment at Nuremberg." The infrequently staged story of the war crimes trial of leading Nazis is a bold undertaking for the small group, which has not announced its spring show. The award-winning Elden Street Players has challenging plays from Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill and David Mamet planned. The company's summer venture into musical theater generally offers something off the beaten track, a tradition they continue this season with "Side Show." It's a moving show based on the true story of conjoined twins who became stars during the Depression. Another ambitious schedule comes from the GMU Players, which combines student performers with professional directors and designers. Highlights include Neil LaBute's shocking look at art and interpersonal manipulation, "The Shape of Things," and part of a trilogy from prolific young Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. His "The Cripple of Inishmaan" is an engaging look at despair on a remote island off Ireland.

Theatergoers looking for unfamiliar material will be interested in "The Time of Your Life," the season opener this fall from the Providence Players in Falls Church. William Saroyan's play is an enjoyable but rarely seen gem from 1939. The Reston Community Players, meanwhile, are mostly continuing their pattern of scheduling frequently performed shows, but they'll end the season with Tina Howe's unconventional play from 1976 that puts a group of people in an art museum and offers differing interpretations of the art. The name? "Museum," of course.

The Vienna Theatre Company also has an ambitious spring show planned with the sprawling musical "Big River," based on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and his adventures. The show was a big Tony winner 21 years ago for Roger Miller, the singer-songwriter who gave us the Top 40 hit "King of the Road" in the mid-'60s.

The twelfth company is Aldersgate Church Community Theater, which plans an Oct. 13 opening of "Bell, Book and Candle."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company