Alec McCowen, a veteran of the Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company and known to many for his performances in "Hadrian VII" and "St. Mark's Gospel," will be a double presence in Washington this week and next. On Saturday he'll direct the first woman to do "Gospel," Lynn Thigpen, at Catholic University's Hartke Theatre. And next week he'll perform his latest one-man show, "Kipling," by Brian Clark, at the Library of Congress (287-5394).
McCowen stunned audiences and critics alike with "Gospel" when he introduced it several years ago; the simplicity of using the biblical story and the virtuosity of the performance were surprising. The idea of having a woman instead of a man tell the story seemed "gimmicky" to McCowen at first, but he changed his mind after hearing Thigpen.
"She gets nearer to the story emotionally," he said in an interview from London, where he is rehearsing both shows. "She has more warmth and compassion than I did. The fact that she's a woman doesn't matter nearly so much as how well she tells the story."
McCowen did "Kipling" in London and New York last year, and is now embarking on a modified U.S. tour: Miami, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Somerset, N.J. "A few very chic places," he said.
Rudyard Kipling intrigued McCowen because "I had a hunch there was a huge contrast between Kipling the person and the wild, extroverted quality of his writing. He was an extremely reticent little man -- he refused to talk about himself except through his books. Also, this show gives me an opportunity, as a frustrated vaudevillian, to run through an entire vaudeville show. There is sentimentality, patriotism, comedy; a little bit of everything."
McCowen says that Kipling is a neglected writer, largely because he has "a bad name as an imperialist" and because "he overstayed his welcome." A child prodigy, Kipling was at the height of his fame in his twenties and thirties, and "then became a grumpy middle-aged man."
"Where he is frightfully misjudged is that he hated politicians and hated the establishment," McCowen said. "He loathed the aristocracy and the clergy. Most of his poems are about the common man. At the same time he had a deep belief in the British Empire."
If his experience with the "Gospel" is an indication, McCowen may trigger a resurgence of interest in Kipling with this production. Other actors are performing other gospels, he has heard, and he often receives inquiries from people who think he has some sort of copyright on the text. "One theater actually wrote to ask where they could find the script," he said. "I said go to the nearest hotel bedroom!" 'Seagull' Cast Announced
Kelly McGillis, who played the female lead in the movie "Witness," will play Nina in the American National Theater's production of "A Seagull." Paul Winfield, Kathleen Nolan, and Henderson Forsyth have also joined the cast. The play, directed by Peter Sellars, opens in December. I Do, I Do
Maury Collins, formerly the manager of Ford's Theatre, now the general manager for the Shubert Organization in Chicago, got married Sunday in appropriate show-biz style. The processional was "Marriage Type Love" from "Me and Juliet," and the recessional was "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," which the guests and the judge helped sing (the opening three lines, which begin "Now that we have had the rice and flowers," were taken in turn by the bride, groom and judge). Collins' new husband is Michael Dorf, who used to work for Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.) and is now director of projects and planning for the Chicago cultural affairs office. The couple is honeymooning not in Buffalo but the Outer Banks of North Carolina, after which they will be honored at a party in Washington. Mammoth Fundraiser
The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which has postponed play production until April to concentrate full-time on finding a new space, is having a benefit Nov. 9 in Rock Creek Park at the National Center for Therapeutic Riding. White House Press Secretary Jim Brady and his wife Sarah are the honorary chairpersons for the event, which will include bluegrass music, chili, roulette, blackjack and door prizes. Tickets cost $25; call 393-3939. The theater will reopen in April with a three-play repertory; the plays have not been selected. Plays and Places
Source Theatre and the French Embassy are teaming up to present a French experimental group, Theatre Grottescu. Its first performance is Nov. 15 at the embassy's new theater; in December it will inaugurate Source's series of midnight performances. (That's right; the show starts at midnight.) The pieces to be performed are "The Insomniacs" and "The Gyphon." Tonight at 8 Source will present a reading of Franz Wedekind's "Spring Awakening," translated by Edward Bond. It's about teen-age sex and suicide . . .
Bob Foy, who heads the Middle Atlantic Equipment Corp., which makes hospital and lab equipment and supplies, has taken over as executive director of the Castle Performing Arts Center in Hyattsville for a public service salary of $1. He's hoping to reorganize the center, which he says has been the victim of "immature" financial decisions . . .
Opening: Thursday, "Fifth of July," at the Castle Center; Saturday, "St. Mark's Gospel," at Catholic University.
"Playing for Time" at the Studio has been extended to Nov. 10.