KEITH PARKER has been the director and literary manager of the Source Theatre's Washington Theatre Festival for seven of its 10 years. And apart from the annual inconvenience of having his Dupont Circle apartment overrun by the hundreds of new scripts submitted from around the country (600 this year, 150 of them from Washington area writers), Parker says he really enjoys it -- as an added bonus, he gets an advance glimpse of the Zeitgeist. Parker may not be ready to write a "Megatrends"-type tome based on what he sees emerging from each year's batch of new plays, but he says he senses something changing.
"When we started the Festival in 1981, it was the hangover of the '70s -- the tail end of the Me/My decade of writing," says Parker. "Now that playwrights have had a world view thrust upon them -- all of a sudden, the world went zoom and the speed of world change has had some impact -- maybe the '90s will turn out to be the We decade."
Or maybe it'll be the Whee! decade -- Parker says many of the submissions signal "a return of the imagination," with scripts moving beyond realism, stock characters and TV-movie-of-the-week imitation. For example, the Festival kick-starts July 6 with Peter Donnalley's "Hot Rod Aliens From Hell," a B-movie parody (among other things) in which a bickering yup-couple encounters an isolated desert cafe and its inhabitants. Donnalley is a 39-year-old construction worker and author of 75 short stories, a handful of half-hour TV scripts and several plays, "none of which," he says, "has been bought, optioned or produced"; the festival staging will be his first production.
And this year's Literary Prize went to Jeanne Murray Walker for her "Stories From the National Enquirer," to be presented at GALA Hispanic Theatre Aug. 2-5. It's described in the festival brochure as "the antic tale of one man's search for roots and meaning by way of 'Twin Peaks' and 'The Twilight Zone.' "
Even when playwrights chose more conventional thematic material, Parker noticed them cutting loose a little bit, and playing with style. "I got one script that told about a corporate merger through the use of Kabuki theater and Greek chorus -- two great theatrical styles together at last! And another depicted a day in the life of a typical accountant, but in the rhymed couplets of Restoration comedy."
Many of the plays in this year's festival address contemporary culture directly. For example, Roy Barber distilled two years of on-site interviews into "Children With Stones" (July 15-18), a musical montage about the impact of the intifada uprising on Israeli and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Barber is composer of "A Dance Against Darkness," the acclaimed musical about people living with AIDS that's touring area high schools after a hit run at d.c. space. Actress-playwright Oni Faida Lampley's "Mixed Babies" (July 19-22) is one of four short plays showcasing the efforts of area African-American cultural interest groups. Brown Cardwell's "The Book Club" (July 26-28) features "five suburban women who meet to discuss current and choice reading and resolve to wipe out drug dealers in the community with their bare dishpan hands." And, because there has to be some silliness for its own sake, Bob Garman has written a one-act synopsis of three thousand years of "The History of Theatre" (July 11-14).
The popular 10-Minute Play Competition has been expanded to four nights (July 22-25) and will include several special events, Parker says, "including acclaimed actress Sarah Marshall, who is bringing us a short, outrageous and nearly impossible to stage Ionesco piece called 'Double Act,' which clocks in at about 14 minutes. We'll also present the popular New Vaudeville troupe the Art Club. And a group that does rap versions of Shakespeare's sonnets."
Who knows what other treasures (or traumas) lurk within these untried scripts? Only one way to find out . . . .
In addition to the Source Theatre, festival events will be staged at several host sites including Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Avalanche Theatre at the Church Street Theatre, Washington Project for the Arts, the D.C. Jewish Community Center, the French Embassy, Joy of Motion and d.c. space, Herb's Restaurant and the new Luna Cafe at Skewers. Tickets are $10 for showcase events (full productions); $5 for festival shows (with more of a staged-reading feel), and $40 for a festival pass admitting the bearer to events of his/her choice. Call 462-1073.
THE BRAND-NEW Washington Shakespeare Company is finally ready to roll, after a bumpy month. That's more than a slight understatement -- the troupe was planning to open its first repertory season at the Castle Arts Center in Hyattsville when the lights were abruptly yanked from the theater space, which was soon after shut down due to management changes. But the WSC has found another place to play, and will begin performances of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" July 11 at the Black Box Theater on the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College.
The company, founded by actor-playwright T. J. Edwards, should be able to capitalize on the familiarity of Christopher Hampton's 18th-century romantic intrigue -- we've recently witnessed the Royal Shakespeare Company's hit Broadway staging and two movie versions. The troupe has tapped some top in-town talent, including irreverent director Jim Stone, who handles Source Theatre's Late Night programming; actors Brian Hemmingsen, Megan Morgan, Nanna Ingvarsson and Nancy Robinette; and James Kronzer, who won this year's Helen Hayes Award for costume design. Call 546-8585.