There's an astonishing collection of trash on the stage for the current run of two one-act plays at the Washington Project for the Arts.
This is no criticism of the Paradise Island Express production, which, indeed, is an exemplary example of the special kind of theater that a small, well-disciplined troupe can offer adventurous audiences.
Rather, the observation reflects admiration for the eclectic junk collection assembled for the staging of Jean Claude van Itallie's "Bag Lady."
When Deirdre Lavrakas shuffles on the stage with her bulging shopping bags, she could be one of those women in rag-tag clothes sorting through the trash cans in Farragut Square, muttering to themselves or ranting against the world. If you have walked by with a shake of the head, meet Clara as she takes up residence on a New York City park bench.
As she raves about being empress of New York, Judy Garland and a yacht owner, Clara gradually reveals a hurt and frightened person who has been exiled by society. She may shout foul insults at passers-by who ignore her pleas for handouts. But when she fears that the police are watching, she tells herself: "Be a good, quiet crazy . . . be a good girl . . . be like everybody else."
Lavrakas makes the most of her role as Clara. She is angry, sad, proud, shrewd, vulnerable and mad as she rambles on and sorts her possessions in the shopping bags. She remembers her childhood, the mental institutions, the hypodermic needles. She pulls out a Palm Beach telephone book and rips out a page before she discards it. In the end, we feel her loneliness and isolation.
The other offering, which opens the double bill, is Harold Pinter's "Silence." On the stage, as the audience is finding seats are three figures frozen in poses like a display in a wax museum. One holds his head in silent anguish.
When they begin to speak, they make no attempt to acknowledge each other. His characters could reach out to touch each other, but deliberately choose not to do so. Compressed into a half-hour, "Silence" has touches of Pinter's skillful use of language but is too brief to convey and feel for the characters.
Pinter must be orchestrated and choreographed on the stage. Director John E. Jacobsen brings ingenuity and imagination to the production. Movements and lines are beautifully integrated.
He is aided by fine performances by Dominic Ambrosi, Kathryn Kelly and Cliff McMullen. Kelley beautifully portrays a woman trying to keep herself coolly under control, and McMullen, a talented actor, is bitter, tender and explosive in his role.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday through Feb. 8. The Washington Project for the Arts loft stage is at 1227 G St. NW.