TALK ABOUT your unlikely comedy teams: Hollywood bombshell Mae West (of "Why don't you come up and see me sometime" fame) and witty Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth (of "If you can't say something nice about somebody, sit right down here by me" fame) meet in a play called "Diamonds and Pearls," which will have free, staged readings at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Monday in the National Theatre.
Playwright Carl Sferrazza Anthony wrote the play about the meeting of the Hollywood and Washington legends about three years ago, and it was staged last fall by Georgetown Workshop Theater. "It was a dual biographical play, but it came off more like a history lesson," Anthony admits. "So now what I've done is sort of spoof myself and the earnestness of the play."
Anthony framed the original play within another play, in which two young actresses are portraying Longworth and West. Then the real women happen to show up at the rehearsal and chew out the playwright and director -- played, not coincidentally, by Anthony and director Fred Lee.
Anthony, an author who specializes in writing about presidents and first ladies, met both West and Longworth in the late '70s. He had made small sculptures of each of them: West kept hers on the piano. The head broke off Longworth's, but she said she liked it better that way and kept the head next to the body of the figurine.
Anthony says he was attracted to both women as subject matter because of their honest and unconventional attitudes in very conventional societies. "Hollywood and Washington, entertainment and politics look quite different on the surface, but they are very much alike," Anthony says. "I hope the play is about that, and about a confrontation between legend and reality."
"Diamonds and Pearls" will be produced this summer in San Diego, and Anthony says he hopes Monday's showcase will interest a Washington theater.
The University of Maryland and Gallaudet University are collaborating on a production of "Children of a Lesser God." The combination of hearing and deaf actors isn't novel in itself, but director Bill Patterson says this is the first time a major university has collaborated with a major university for the deaf, and, surprisingly, it's the first time Gallaudet has directly participated in a production of the play about the problematic union of a deaf student and her hearing teacher.
The hearing actors began learning sign language in September, and Ronald Heneghan, who plays the lead role of James, speaks and signs for two solid hours on stage. Mark Medoff's Tony-winning play was written for hearing audiences, Patterson points out, leaving whole segments of unsigned dialogue virtually blank to deaf audience members. So a Gallaudet faculty member did a new sign language translation of the play for deaf actors, and Patterson added an onstage interpreter, who acts as a shadow in the scenes when people are speaking only -- which amounts to about 45 percent of the play. "That's part of doing the play right, as far as I'm concerned," Patterson says, "just like I wouldn't consider not using deaf actors."
"Children" plays at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theater through February 20; at Gallaudet's Elstadt Auditorium February 25-28; and at Anne Arundel Community College March 4-5.
Bulletin Board: One of the stars of "The Night Hank Williams Died" at New Playwrights' Theater is playwright Larry L. King, who turns in a charmingly understated and very funny performance as barkeep Gus Gilbert. King has invited his Alcoholics Anonymous group to an upcoming performance and says "I had to warn the cast that in the opening scene, every time I open a bottle of beer and take a drink there's going to be knowing chuckles and titters and whispers from the audience, so don't look to see if your fly is unzipped or whatever. Though they know it's only water in those bottles, it's gonna be a houseful of old drunks adjusting to the sight of another old drunk breaking the rules" . . . Country singer Jerry Jeff Walker is due at Tuesday's performance of "Hank Williams" and plans to sing a few for members of the Texas State Society onstage after the show.
Since actor Matt Walker had to begin technical rehearsals for the Scottish play at the Shakespeare Theater at the Folger, director Robert McNamara has been drafted to fill his shoes in the wild comedy "Tropical Madness," which continues at Source's Main Stage Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m. McNamara has had to step in on short notice before: When he directed "Equus" at Source, McNamara had to play the stable owner one night, and the part of the boy's father the next, on 30 minutes notice. And one night he had to fill in for one of the six horses -- "poetic harmony and justice," McNamara says . . . Source Theater's "Safe Sex" cast received an appreciative letter from playwright Harvey Fierstein the other day. "I read the notices, and I'm proud. Proud not only to have my work so well received, but to be able to provide the vehicle to showcase your obviously abundant talents. I'd like to thank you for caring to do theater that cares about its audience." The show closes Sunday . . . Studio has had mixed success with its two-play black repertory. First the bad news, "Split Second" closes Saturday, a week early; the good news is that "The Colored Museum" is extended through March 6.