As the Washington Theatre Festival enters its final week in a month-long marathon of local offerings, it is apparent that while quantity does not always equal quality, the sheer volume of effort says something positive about the state of the low-budget, aspiring professional theater in Washington.
After a particularly dreary evening (and there have been some of those) it is sometimes difficult to retain that positive feeling and believe that out of activity good art sometimes grows. There are those who argue that a failed, sloppy or dimwitted producton does more to hurt the theater than help it by discouraging audiences and draining what meager financing there is. But it is also true that today's failure can be tomorrow's bonanza, and surely if there is no arena for the out-of-the-mainstream production, alternatives will never flourish.
With those caveats, we offer brief reviews of several plays showcased during the festival. Plays by women dominated this past week. "The Poem is the Last Resort," a collage of poetry, music and dance performed by four capable actresses, was the most successful of three "works in progress." Thematically, the evening was a little heavy on the sensitive-agony-my-guts-are-crying school of thought, using poetry by Robin Morgan, Marge Piercy, Sonia Sanchez and others to talk, with some monotony, about self-love, strength, pain, motherhood and work.
But the performance had integrity; it was well rehearsed, the actresses had control of their parts, and the concept had texture. Rebecca Rice and Janet Stanford were particularly effective, strong and clear-voiced, and aware that simplicity of delivery was the best way to communicate with the audience. Helen Stoltzfus, blond and lanky, also was admirable; and Yuki Williams, though lacking in vocal control and diction, contributed charm.
"Sand Castles," by Laurel Allen, played on a double bill with "Woman at the Washington Zoo." Both are very much works in progress and were presented as stage readings, which means the performers hold scripts and the direction is at a minimum.
"Woman . . ." dealt with a reunion of three sisters, one an out-of-era hippie with nymphomaniac tendencies, the oldest a middle-class matron with preppie tendencies, and the third and youngest a recently out-of-the-closet lesbian. The play has several weaknesses, the most striking being that while most of the action seemed to be leading to the youngest sister's dramatic announcement of her lesbianism, as soon as it was revealed the action shifted to the problems of the oldest sister. There was barely any development of reaction to what was presented as being a major piece of news. The character Bill, a boyfriend of the promiscuous sister, seemed superfluous, and his brief attempt to seduce the matronly sister seemd pointless.
Both "Woman . . ." and "Sand Castles" suffered from a lack of meaningful action; the characters talked and announced instead of having things happen to them. "Sand Castles" is about a woman, a singer in a Washington rock band, who has just had an unwanted abortion. Her lover is leaving her for another woman, and she loses her job in the band becuse he feels uncomfortable having her around. There is a great deal of potential drama here, but it is frittered away in talk.
Both plays will be performed again on July 26 at the Source Theatre, 1809 14th St. NW.