Arena Stage's present productions are hardly what one will find in theaters out for the almighty green.
Arena currently is presenting gorki's "The Lover Depths," one of Russia's most influential works. It is staged with spiritual awareness and assurance.
"Catsplay," now at Arena's Kreeger, is the first American production of this contemporary Hungarian play, a richly amusing, novel staging about a Budapest counterpart to the Amanda of St. Louis in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."
Plans for next season indicate equal adventurousness. Arena's founder-director Zelda Fichandler is already deep into '77-'78. Here are some of her ideas:
Concerned over the community's loss of the D.C. Black Rep. Fichandler will begin the season with a visit from New York's Negro Ensemble Company, of which Robert Hooks was a cofounder before he tackled the D.C. Black Rep.
"The Great Macdaddy," by Paul Carter Harrison to music by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, was one of the NEC's admired creations at St. Mark's Playhouse under Douglas Turner Ward's direction. Its two-month run the winter of '74 was followed by a tour that included the Virgin Islands.
Ward will restage the episodic work for the Kreeger, and while this is being played, a new NEC work will be introduced there before going on to its New York home.
Another likely production will be Pavel Kohout's Czech success, "Poor Murderer," which will fit into Arena's occasional "second chance" category, devoted to plays that failed in New York but which Fichandler feels merit wider audiences.
Though Sam Shepard, nurtured Off-Off-Broadway, is recognized as one of the most prolific of young American dramatists, he incurs as much exasperation as admiration. His "The Tooth of Crime," which Richard Schechner's The Performance Group introduced in 1973 and Yale took on the next year, is about gangsterland and pop culture, and Fichandler hopes to capture its "feel of contemporary college" next season.
Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music for "Godspell," "Pippin," "The Magic Show" and "The Baker's Wife," is on to a new idea, a musical from Studs Terkel's study of nonglamorous American lives, "Working." Though this is still in its early phases, Fichandler has an inside track on its first production.
One result of Arena's performing mission to Moscow and Leningrad in '73 was the American introduction for "The Ascent of Mount Fuji" two years later. Contacts have been maintained with the Moscow Art Theater's Oleg Yefremov and playwright Mikhail Roschin, who dropped by for "Catsplay" and promised Roschin's next script to the Russian-speaking Fichandler.
The time has come, Fichandler muses, for Arena's first "Hamlet." There probably will be those who mutter that they've already seen "Hamlet," forgetting that hundreds of thousands in the area have not had the opportunity. Clear, fine speech is a grating lack in American acting talents, and Arena's previous attempts at Shakespeare have not been conspicuously worthy.
When the present -- and third --Arena opened in October 1961, the bill was "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," and Alan Schneider's production of it was so memorable that a subsequent one in Lincoln Center paled. Now is the time, Fichandler figures, for another look at the John Holmstrom adaptation. And, postponed from this season, would be "A Streetcar Named Desire," which she finds "more thickly textured, more ambiguous and more highly charged than ever."
England's playwrights are not being ignored. Edward Bond has what he calls "a new adaptation" from Wedekind's "Spring's Awakening." Trevor Griffith's "Comedians" is another. Mike Nichols, who staged the recent Broadway version, was saying recently that if he had it to do over, he would have moved the setting from Manchester to Harlem. Alan Ayckbourn's "How the Other Half Loves" did shift its locale from England to America for an importation that failed, but presumably if Arena goes through with it for next season, the original, class-conscious milieu will be retained.
Introduced to public performances through two years of "In the Process" new scripts series, the Old Vat Room will add a three-production play series on a separate subscription plan.
This will include Robert Patrick's "Kennedy's Children," a double bill of the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Sylvia Plath," and Eve Merriam's "Growing Up Female in America" and Slawomir Mrozek's "Emigres."
Such a list presupposes adventurous playgoers and this is where the crunch lies. If there were such a thing as surefire programming to fill the theaters (and there isn't), the upcoming season wouldn't come close.