Lincoln Theatre Troubles Continue

Fenty, left, with Deputy Mayor Neil Albert. The mayor's budget includes $250,000 for the Lincoln Theatre.
Fenty, left, with Deputy Mayor Neil Albert. The mayor's budget includes $250,000 for the Lincoln Theatre. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Mayor Adrian Fenty's proposed 2008 city budget includes a $250,000 subsidy for the city-owned Lincoln Theatre, a number D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) calls "disappointingly low." Graham said he appreciates the mayor's effort to create a line-item subsidy for the Lincoln in the budget but told Fenty he'll propose doubling that figure. Graham thinks the mayor and the council will support an increase. "The Lincoln is just too important an asset to be toyed with," he told Backstage.

Graham had expected the 2007 budget to include $500,000 to underwrite management of the historic U Street NW establishment. It didn't. In January, the city gave the Lincoln stopgap funding of $200,000.

Another $1.5 million will be provided for "capital improvements," including structural repairs to the roof, walls and plumbing scheduled for July and August, said Derrick Woody, a project manager in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

He said the city is still seeking a private consultant to put together a financial plan for the theater, and an entity with "a bit more experience with booking and maintaining a theater the size of the Lincoln" to work out a business plan with the community-based U Street Theatre Foundation. The foundation has managed the landmark theater since its big renovation in the early 1990s.

Graham wants to see the budget and management issues resolved by summer. The foundation has "been pretty much on bread and water" in terms of city help, he said. "Even with half a million, to have a really vital theater institution, you've got to have some very strong private fundraising, but it's a chicken-and-egg. . . . If you don't have enough money to hire a grant writer, you don't get grants."

Glaser's Theatric Therapy

In her solo piece "Oh My Goddess!" Sherry Glaser plays the Big Guy's "better half . . . the one who gave birth to us all." The Goddess takes a 4,000-year nap, wakes up and, well, happy she's not.

"Where's my garden?" Glaser as Goddess asks with mock outrage over afternoon coffee. "There were no Commandments! There was a to-do list!" It included "(1) Love yourself and (2) Don't run -- your cousin Buddha could sit for days."

Even in her cozier, less heretical solo show "Family Secrets," at Theater J through April 15, Glaser pushes the boundaries. She portrays the various members of her family: the father who doesn't understand why his older daughter has a female lover, then a male lover, then a child out of wedlock (and by natural childbirth, oy); the mother who shoves a lasagna down the toilet to kick off a mental breakdown; the angry teenage daughter (both daughters are based on Glaser at different ages); the arthritic grandmother who has found a second true love late in life.

"Family Secrets" was an off-Broadway hit in the early 1990s and was revived there last year. The original show was directed by Greg Howells, then Glaser's husband and the father of her two children. He disappeared in 1997 and was declared dead five years later, a possible suicide.

"The whole story around his disappearance is incredibly dramatic. We're coming on the 10th anniversary of his disappearance and I might be ready to write about it," she says when asked if the loss and her subsequent breakdown might inform another play.

"I so appreciate grief. It is precious to grieve when you get the news that somebody you love is dead," says Glaser. "That reality is essential."

The wild-haired 46-year-old actress-writer, now in a "notarized" relationship with another woman and settled in Mendocino County, Calif., says Howells had issues they hadn't faced because he kept her "entertained." He lied about his "drinking and smoking and gambling. . . . He was a little boy who liked to play. He thought he could get rich quick. He was a dreamer."

Every family has one. But Howells is not portrayed in "Family Secrets." Those who are, touch home for audiences. "Somebody said to me last night, 'You made me miss my grandmother,' " Glaser says. Others compliment her Rubenesque proportions: "It's nice to see someone with a tush."

And some are offended -- by the discussion of mental illness, by a character who switches sexual persuasions. "I've learned in all these years that if I don't offend somebody," Glaser says, "then I'm not doing very good."

Cutbacks in Arlington

Small professional theater companies in Arlington County may have to trim their schedules, at least for the 2007-08 season, due to overcrowding in county-owned performance spaces.

Several artistic directors asked the county board on March 27 to speed up expansion of its spaces for small theater companies. American Century Theater's Jack Marshall warned in his statement that reduced seasons could both jeopardize the foundation grants needed to operate and reduce income from subscriptions and ticket sales.

Washington Shakespeare Company has been told it will have to vacate the county-owned Clark Street Playhouse by Oct. 31, when the land will be "swapped" with a private developer. And Signature Theatre's old space on Four Mile Run Drive, which the county purchased for $3 million, needs about $5 million in renovations, which may upset plans to make it into a new home for Washington Shakespeare and other companies with shoestring budgets, including Synetic Theater.

"Something's got to give, so you either get fewer weeks to perform, fewer tech weeks [before the show opens] or fewer shows," said Jon Palmer Claridge of the county's cultural affairs division, which offers the spaces as part of its arts incubator program. "When Washington Shakespeare loses Clark Street," he said, "we're going to have to try to accommodate that. And obviously that puts a burden on other folks," since the company will have to share the remaining theater spaces, including Gunston Arts Center on Glebe Road.

Arlington County is "exploring" the idea of renovating two adjoining warehouses it owns behind the old Signature building and turning them into a theater space that "would essentially be a replacement" for the Clark Street Playhouse, "but there's no deal that's done yet," Palmer Claridge said. If the county board approves, the refitting could take a year.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company