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Washington's small theaters: Constellation Theatre

Friday, April 16, 2010; WE30

Theaters with far bigger budgets would balk at the sprawling plays that Constellation has taken on in its three short seasons: "The Arabian Nights," "The Oresteia," next month's "The Ramayana." But in epic works with vast ensemble casts, Constellation has found its sweet spot. Last year, the company was recognized at the Helen Hayes Awards as outstanding emerging theater company.

Key to the company's mission is exceptional design and fresh staging: With resident designer A.J. Guban, artistic director Allison Arkell Stockman turned the diminutive black box at Source into a theater-in-the-round for Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters," with the audience peering in at all angles. The set for "The Ramayana" will be a bright, divine white.

"Our idea was to create magical worlds that felt 'other' from our everyday life," says Stockman, whose undergraduate major, comparative religion, might explain her attraction to epics. "We reconfigure [Source] for every show. The downside is that there's not much height; it's hard to have gods in a place that's not very tall."

What to see next: "The Ramayana." May 6-June 6 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. 202-204-7741. http://www.constellationtheatre.org. $17-$25.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

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