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Washington's small theater: Happenstance Theater

Friday, April 16, 2010; WE29

The creation of Happenstance in 2006 was, as the name suggests, pure luck -- nothing else could explain the serendipitous clown-class meeting of artistic directors Sabrina Mandell and Mark Jaster.

Jaster was an established local performer who was once a teaching assistant to Marcel Marceau, and Mandell was an actress and poet. They shared a vintage aesthetic and quirky skill set, and eventually something deeper. Within a year, they had married and staged their first show, "Prufbox," at the inaugural Capital Fringe Festival.

"We are heavily influenced by nostalgia, and by our love for the past," says Mandell, who, with Jaster, creates and stars in the pieces, which combine live music, poetry and mime. Indeed, their works are morsels shimmering with heirloom touches rarely seen onstage these days (they have a "no plastic" rule). "Prufbox" was inspired by the eccentric mid-century assemblages of artist Joseph Cornell, and an upcoming Fringe collaboration is based on a 1949 how-to book titled "Esquire's Handbook for Hosts."

It's niche, no question. But "we're sort of doing what we hoped to do," Jaster says. Mandell concurs: "We're completely committed to the bohemian lifestyle."

What to see next: The family-friendly "The Seven Ages of Mime." Through May 2 at Montgomery College, Takoma Park/Silver Spring Performing Arts Center, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 240-567-5775. http://www.happenstancetheater.com. $5-$10.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

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