Onstage This Weekend: The Bold and the Brief

Carrie Buck, left, and her mother, Emma Buck, in a photo taken the day before Virginia conducted a trial to determine whether Carrie should be involuntarily sterilized as
Carrie Buck, left, and her mother, Emma Buck, in a photo taken the day before Virginia conducted a trial to determine whether Carrie should be involuntarily sterilized as "feebleminded." (Courtesy Arthur Estabrook Papers)
By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 7, 2007

In a departure from the usual summer doldrums, theatergoers in Northern Virginia have a rare chance this weekend and next to see an unusually large number of new and challenging plays, some by area playwrights and some featuring Prince William troupes.

That's thanks to both the 26th annual NVTA One-Act Play Festival, which gets underway tomorrow night in Falls Church, and the Sundial Theatre Company of McLean, which is staging the world premiere of a drama based on a dark chapter of Virginia history.

Sundial opens "Kin: The Trial of Carrie Buck," by Iowa-based playwright Jeff Barker, tomorrow night at McLean's Alden Theatre. It's the true story of Carrie Buck, an unmarried, pregnant teenager in 1924 who was labeled "feebleminded" and sent to a Lynchburg asylum where her mother was already committed. After giving birth to a daughter, Buck was forcibly sterilized by the state. Her daughter, Vivian, examined at 7 months, was also officially declared feebleminded.

A new Virginia law allowed the state to prevent the conception of "genetically inferior" children by involuntary sterilization. Buck fought the procedure to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Virginia law in 1927, allowing for tens of thousands of people to be involuntarily sterilized nationwide for the next five decades. Later study concluded that Buck, her mother and her daughter had no hereditary mental defects. Virginia officially apologized to Buck, who died in 1983, but the Supreme Court ruling stands.

Sundial has assembled a top-notch team. Winner of this year's Washington Area Theatre Community Honors award for directing, Rosemary Hartman leads veteran actor Rose DeClerq, a WATCH winner for acting in the past two years, and a cast of 17. DeClerq plays Buck at age 70, looking back on her life, while 17-year old Megan Kelly, a junior at Oakton High School, plays the young protagonist.

"Throughout rehearsals, we've tried to see what sort of mannerisms each of us has and to sort of carry that over to bring our performances together, especially as we're onstage together," DeClerq said. "It's quite an acting challenge. I've had to work hard to ensure the audience sees that young Carrie has matured and that she has not let this shameful action ruin her life. She's found some good in all this and maintains a sense of humor, so it's not all heavy drama."

Kelly has faced a different challenge. "Carrie's so naive and so innocent and she didn't know what she was doing, and I'm such an outgoing, flirtatious and ebullient person," she said. "I have to strip all that away every time I become this character."

Management of the McLean Community Center, which operates the Alden Theatre, is allowing Sundial Theatre Company one weekend to present the play, with performances scheduled tomorrow and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoon.

In Falls Church, meanwhile, NVTA (formerly the Northern Virginia Theatre Alliance) is hosting 11 community-based troupes from Virginia, Maryland and the District, performing 13 one-act plays. The festival will be staged this weekend and next at the James Lee Community Theater in Falls Church. A trio of theater professionals will judge the plays, with awards to be announced at a gala reception June 17. Eight of the plays are original works and six are described as being for mature audiences, as some of the theater companies branch out from their usual fare.

"It gives them an opportunity to work on pieces they might not ordinarily have a chance to work on in their main-stage schedules, something a little different that may not appeal to their core audiences," explained festival co-chairman Deb Crawford. "Some groups use it to try out new directors who want to work with them, and some use the festival to encourage the writing of new works."

Profits from ticket sales benefit the NVTA scholarship fund. The Performance Scholarship will be presented at the culminating gala to Kelly Glyptis, sponsored by Pied Piper Theatre. She is graduating from Stonewall Jackson and will attend Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University this fall. The Technical Scholarship will go to Helen McCarthy for set design. McCarthy, who was sponsored by Little Theatre of Alexandria, is graduating from West Springfield High School. She will attend Emerson College in Boston.

"Kin: The Trial of Carrie Buck" will be performed by Sundial Theatre Company at the Alden Theatre of the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Showtime Friday and Saturday is 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2. Tickets, priced at $10 and $15, are available in person at the Alden Theatre box office or by calling TicketMaster at 703-573-7328.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company