At Playbill, All the Cafe's a Stage

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007

As far as rendezvous spots for discussing budgetary constraints on upcoming productions of "Edward III" go, the Playbill Cafe on 14th Street NW works quite well.

It did, anyway, for Ian Armstrong and Leigh Anna Fry, who took their repose and plates of quesadillas in a back booth of the dark, stained-wood bar earlier this week. The two -- producer and associate producer, respectively -- would present a united front when they brought the bottom lines to their Washington Shakespeare Company cast.

Note: That's the Washington Shakespeare Company of Arlington and Clark Street Playhouse, not the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Penn Quarter and considerably bigger budgets, though that crew shows up here almost as often.

"Where else can Michael Kahn eat looking at a picture of himself?" Playbill owner Elsayed Mansour asks. It's a tough one to answer. In his own home, one would think, but there's no time to call and investigate.

Up front, Jill Parson is at the keyboard doing a little up-tempo Cher, and Mansour, who nine years ago next week opened the doors of the divey theater watering hole with partner Jeffrey DeMontier, has more to show us.

The tiles, for instance.

"Great!! Cosmos's. Yeah!" That one is Debbie Allen's. Apparently she was big on exclamation points when she wrote it June 29, 2002. The process: Finish a play or be kind of famous, then grab a marker and sign a tile.

"You must be exactly the way God meant you to be." Sweet, huh? Credit Scott Lowell, the guy who played Ted on "Queer as Folk." Apparently he swung by on 5-11-01.

Oooh, here's one: "Bless You Beautiful People. May You Always Bless Vaginas."

Oh, Eve Ensler, you know we will.

"She's a wonderful woman. A wonderful woman," Mansour gushes. "In here every day for lunch and dinner during her run. Every day." (Her run back in 1998, according to the tile, not the recent Omarosa-theatrical-debut visit.)

Here's the thing, lawyers have a corner on almost every bar in town. And if it's not them, it's the journalists. Or Hill staffers or bike messengers or those guys who wear sunglasses on top of their heads at night. Actors need cocktails, too.

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