Two small Washington theater companies are offering productions this weekend that show that art can thrive in unlikely settings.
"Source," long a dependable supplier of quality theater, has fitted "A Memory for Saturday" neatly and appropriately into a corner of the loft of the Washington Project for the Arts. Maureen Downing is splendid as Molly, the long-suffering ringmaster of a wild and woolgathering Irish-American family, half of which is blowing up while the other half collapses.
Downing is solidly supported by Paula Marmon, Aileen Drennan, Linda Hall and Debra Stromberg. An all-woman cast often serves as a warning of a feminist diatribe, but in this case is simply playwright Thomas W. Stephens' adaptation to the realities of teaching theater at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. Men there are aplenty, as offstage characters, and they are bums, blackguards or wimps every one, but the author has the temerity to suggest that there are casualties on both sides in the war between men and women.
The play is well-made, although Stephens while writing some of the longer lines would have done well to bear in mind that actors need to breathe from time to time.
Hugh McKay's set, a kitchen in a shabby-genteel, Depression-era rowhouse in a Midwestern city, is delightful in itself -- the sink even works -- and is enhanced by the bare brickwork of the crummy loft.
"Spheres," which is sort of a spinoff from the Source company, offers a twin bill of Sartre's "No Exit" and "Ruffian on the Stair" by Joe Orton, at D.D. Space.
The two short plays complement each other, but it probably would work better -- and play harder -- if the order of presentation were reversed, because Sartre's acid takes some of the bite out of Orton's bile.
"No Exit" is fun. Sartre's conception of hell as being no different from earthly life, except that you can't ever get up and leave the room is both black and bright. Tom Crouch, Brian Hemmingsen, Ginger Kipps and Laurel Allen bounce the idea around with enough energy to carry the farce and enough character-craft to prevent a slide into slapstick.
Hemmingsen, Allen and Crouch then return in "Ruffian," which they play with no sign of the strain that must accompany such radical role-switching. In some ways Orton's first play is better theater than Sartre's second, but it's a welterweight vs. a heavyweight, and Orton lacks punch. Either half of the bill is worth the price of admission, and it's a pleasure to see conscientious actors perform so well under trying conditions.
Both playhouses are close to Metro stops, making them convenient as well as bargains: Either production can be seen for a total of $10.50, including subway fare.