One new play and another 1,500 years old are enjoying flawed but lively productions at two small local theaters. At New Playwrights', it's Michael Wright's "Blood Relations," a domestic drama set in prosaic Dundalk, Maryland. Three blocks away at the Studio, the show is "Shakuntala," a fifth-century Sanskrit classic set in exotic Northern India.
While both shows drag at times and suffer from fits of fumbling, they seem a credible counterpoint to some of the higher-priced tickets in town -- especially if you're interested in the alternative-theater scene.
Baltimore native Michael Wright's play has more than its share of structural and dramatic problems, as well as intimidating length. But at least he's included a few recognizable human beings. The story of a broken home and a vengeful son's visit, turning the cozy union of his estranged father and older brother on its head, holds a lot of promise.
The play never delivers, with the proceedings stumbling instead toward a hokey, false catharsis. But Victor Gialanella as the Archie Bunker-ish father, Robin Deck as his ill-used mistress and Steve Dawn as the edgy avenger supply a few nice touches along the way: Gialanella growling at Deck in a love scene or Dawn lounging leopard-like on top of the fridge keep matters from grinding to a halt.
Jim Fyfe, as Dawn's gawky and guileless elder brother -- with his ear for the cadences of Dundalk -- manages to be as appealing as Dawn is creepy. The play's truest moments, on an evocative set of a kitchen and living room from designer Lewis Folden, have him dancing and lip-synching to his deaf-defying stereo.
The Studio Theater's production of "Shakuntala," written by a fellow named Kalidasa at the height of Sanskrit culture, offers resplendent costumes and set, spirited dancing and authentic music, plus a fanciful tale of romance and mysticism.
Translated from the Sanskrit by Michael Coulson and adapted with care by Joy Zinoman -- but way too long at 21/2 hours -- the play nearly succeeds in casting a spell. Alas, the mood is broken by embarrassing performances in crucial roles -- a speech coach would appear to be in order -- but at least Gail Sawyer is competent as Shakuntala, the country maiden wooed by a king. And Richard Hart, stealing scenes by being whiny and bitchy, plays a welcome foil to the generally straight-faced style: He makes the king's jester a broadly amusing character. BLOOD RELATIONS -- At New Playwrights' Theater, 1742 Church Street NW, through October 31. SHAKUNTALA -- At the Studio Theater, 1401 Church Street NW, through November 7.