Roger L. Stevens, retired chairman of the Kennedy Center, will produce a play in the National Theatre this fall. The play, "Doublecross," written by Washington lawyer Gary Bohlke, is a thriller set in Virginia, and is scheduled to run seven weeks with the hope of a later Broadway booking. In addition, Stevens will present another show, or shows, at the National in the spring.
Stevens, 80, retired from running the Kennedy Center in 1988 with plans to continue his career as a producer. Since then he has had a role in several productions that have played in the center's Eisenhower Theater, including A.R. Gurney's "The Cocktail Hour" and the current Broadway hit by Aaron Sorkin, "A Few Good Men." This year, under new chairman James D. Wolfensohn, the center has a full season of plays and musicals booked (some of them under former chairman Ralph Davidson). "I don't know what other theater I'd be in," Stevens said yesterday.
The Kennedy Center, under Stevens, booked the National Theatre's seasons for five years, between 1974 and 1979, before the relationship foundered and the New York-based Shubert Organization took over. Since then (if not before) there has been a generally friendly rivalry between the two theaters, with both, on occasion, vying for the relatively few pre- and post-Broadway productions available these days (such as "The Phantom of the Opera," which the Kennedy Center bagged for next spring). With "Doublecross," Stevens will be leasing the theater just as any other independent producer would do.
In one of those ironic routes that make the theater what it is, "Doublecross" has taken eight years and a transatlantic trip to make it across town from the playwright's word processor to the bright lights of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bohlke, 49, who worked for many years as an environmental lawyer with the Department of the Interior, heard his play read for the first time at the Source Theatre on 14th Street in 1982. He signed with an agent in New York, who thought the play would have a better chance of getting produced in England, where costs are somewhat lower and producers slightly more venturesome. After the play ran at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1983, British producer Michael White sent a copy to Stevens, and now, after a number of years and even more rewrites, the production is materializing. Stevens has signed director A.J. Antoon and has begun the process of casting, he said.
Bohlke has been at work this summer finishing a novel. He is thrilled at the latest turn of events, he said, but nonetheless is looking for a job in his original field, the law.
By coincidence, next season will also see a production by Washington's other successful lawyer/playwright, Ken Ludwig, whose "Lend Me a Tenor" will go on tour after its New York run. It will play at the Kennedy Center during some of the same weeks as "Doublecross."
"Doublecross" will open sometime after "Les Miserables" closes Oct. 13, following a two-week tryout at Duke University in North Carolina. Stevens's spring production -- probably Guerney's "Love Letters," which has two stars as yet unsigned -- will follow the Washington tryout of Neil Simon's new play, "Lost in Yonkers," which closes Feb. 10.