TRYING TO MEET the reclusive playwright Samuel Beckett was rather like a scene from one of his enigmatic plays, says director Robert McNamara, whose production of Beckett's "Endgame" is at Source Theater's Mainstage as part of his new Scena troupe's three-play winter repertory.
While he was artistic director for Dublin's Stage One Theatre in the late '70s, McNamara began to correspond with the playwright. "I directed several of his plays, including 'Krapp's Last Tape,' and produced a one-man show adapted from Beckett's novels, and it was quite well received in the press," McNamara says. Then, from out of the blue, "I got a letter from Beckett, who said, 'If I'd have known you were going ahead with it, I would have pulled the chain. But as you have already, good luck, and all the best, Sam Beckett."
In the fall of 1986, while McNamara was "running around Europe" on various literary pursuits, he decided it was time to finally meet the great man. "We were to meet at a hotel in Paris," McNamara says. "I spent the whole day looking for a bottle of Irish whiskey to bring him as a gift. And then it happened just like in the plays: I was waiting and waiting, and Beckett never arrived."
But, having come this far, McNamara wasn't about to give up. "So I went to his apartment -- it was really sort of frightening, like a surreal stage set, all these crutches and wheelchairs out in the street in front of his building. But there was a gold name plate that read: S. BECKETT. I waited for him, and he appeared, just as if he had stepped out of Dublin in the '50s: a tall, well-groomed, handsome figure in a turtleneck and tweed jacket.
"We spoke about Dublin pubs which are no longer there, and about various productions of his plays. There were some thunderous pauses in the conversation -- it was almost like what he didn't say told me more. It was a great moment in my life, a powerful experience for me, and when I was leaving, he said something curious: 'The next time you're in Paris, make me a sign.' I took that to mean I could get in touch with him again."
Murder, She Wrote: The saintly Helen Hayes, of all people, has written her first novel -- and it's a murder mystery, of all things. But then, Hayes has played Agatha Christie's Miss Marple on more than one occasion, so she knows the territory. "Where the Truth Lies," which was cowritten with mystery author Thomas Chastain, will be published in February by William Morrow.
The book is about a famous director who is murdered while onstage at the Academy Awards; the sleuth is a famous actress. Here's a character description, in the Hayes style: "Then there was Halcyon Harper, star, who had just gotten into town from New York . . . Halcie, as she liked her friends to call her, was an original: star of stage, screen, and sometimes television, for five or more decades, winner of an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and nominated for a second Oscar, and who had a Broadway theater named after her." Sound like anyone we know?
Now that his Herb's Restaurant is reestablished in its new location at 17th and Rhode Island NW, art-loving restaurateur Herb White is getting back into supporting Washington artists. Thus, the First Annual Winter Cast Bash, a party to benefit Washington's up-and-coming 14th Street theater district. The music will be provided by the wacky Doctor Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra, and all proceeds from the tax-deductible $25 ticket go to the 14th Street theaters, which include Javarama, Living Stage, Moving Target, New Playwrights', Source, Studio and Woolly Mammoth. The Bash is January 18. Call 333-4372.
Also coming up is "Metamorphosis," a multimedia tribute to Jack Guidone, the Washington dancer/singer/choreographer and mask-maker/guiding light who died last year of AIDS. The evening will feature the first look at "Immunity (Part 1)," a new play by T. J. Edwards, who acknowledged Guidone in his acceptance speech when "New York Mets" won the Helen Hayes Award for best new play last year. D.C. Cabaret will perform selections from "A Dance Against Darkness," its original musical revue about AIDS. Also on the bill are movement theater by Karin Abromaitis, music by Zach Swagger, dance by Guidone's troupe Axolotl, D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater, Upright Vertebrae, and Michelle Ava.
"Metamorphosis" is presented 8 p.m. January 15 and 16 at George Washington University's Marvin Center Theater; tickets are available at the Backstage theatrical store, Joy of Motion Dance Center, and the Marvin Center box office.
Bulletin Board: Adrienne Kennedy will read from her book "People Who Led to My Plays" at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger as part of the PEN/Faulkner readings series. Michael Kahn, who directed Kennedy's 1964 "Funnyhouse of a Negro," will direct Kim Staunton, Tracey Williams, Kaia Calhoun and Fay Richey in scenes from that and other plays. The reading is this Friday at 8 p.m.; call 544-7077 . . . Fords' Theatre has named Kathy Wisniewski to the post of development director; Wisniewski says she plans to complete the historic theater's $5 million endowment by next year . . . Arena Stage is offering a $5 student night for "Enrico IV" -- it's this Friday . . . Tag-team directing?: "Enrico IV" features an unusual double-bill in the director credits -- an Arena spokesman says founding director Zelda Fichandler did the early work on the play, consulted with the designers, and laid down the basic concepts for the production; Mel Shapiro fulfilled the concepts and did the blocking and actual direction . . . Hexagon, the annual satirical revue that raises funds for local charities, is holding open auditions to cast this year's revue, called "Party Ties and Platform Heels." Auditions are Saturday, 12:30 to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 2 to 6 p.m. at the Parish Hall of St. John's Episcopal Church, 3240 O Street NW. The organizers say, "Be prepared to sing at least one song (although one up-tempo number and one ballad is preferred), to do a one-minute monologue, and dress for dancing or easy movement. Hexagon believes in non-traditional casting." Call 550-8765.