It's rare to read playbills around Washington or Baltimore now and not find at least one or two actors who've done a turn on "Homicide: Life on the Street."
Over the series's seven-year run, Baltimore-based casting director Pat Moran never had trouble finding actors to populate its police station and crime scenes. Contacted soon after the program was canceled, Moran said she was still "sitting shiva" (in mourning) for the show.
She estimated that she used "hundreds of people for speaking roles and thousands of people for atmosphere" from Baltimore, Washington, Virginia, Philadelphia, "everywhere all up and down the East Coast." Moran's early days casting such John Waters films as "Polyester" and "Hairspray" no doubt prepared her for finding the quirky actors "Homicide" required--"really excellent actors that are just a little 'off,' but more towards reality."
Richard Pilcher, seen often at Round House and Olney, played a street cop. "My usual function in this would be to say something like, 'The body's over here. It has two bullets in the back of the head, blah-blah-blah.' I was always where the corpse was," he said. Pilcher found the atmosphere on the set "very businesslike, very professional, usually pretty friendly."
Woolly Mammoth veteran Michael Willis played the sleazy defense attorney on whom star Andre Braugher fell when his character, Detective Pembleton, had his famous stroke. Braugher, said Willis, "was always very giving because he was a stage actor." Holly Twyford, currently in Studio Theatre's "The Desk Set," said, "Every single person on that set was delightful."
Kathryn Kelley, about to open in "Mere Mortals" at Round House Theatre, played the "hillbilly mama" of a couple of teen perpetrators on two episodes, and told Backstage that on a scale of 1 to 10, working for "Homicide" was about a 15.
Fred Strother played a detective in the background almost from the show's inception and credits Moran with keeping him there. Said Strother, who appeared in Studio's "Seven Guitars" last season: "It just seemed like everybody was pushing for something innovative; everyone wanted a new slant on things; even the cameraman." Willis agreed: "There's always a sense that you're doing a quality show. Nobody was throwing it away."
Moran had equal compliments for her actors: "We were very fortunate here. The reason we have the Emmy is because of these people, because of these capabilities, because they're so believable and make the writers' words their own."
She'll continue to cast films for Baltimore-inspired directors Barry Levinson and Waters; currently, she's casting "The Corner" for HBO. Meanwhile, she said she's "just happy to be part of something that is television history."
A Double Honor
Lee Mikeska Gardner admits she felt a little awed when Signature Theatre's Eric Schaeffer asked her to direct both parts of "Angels in America."
"I would say I've been flipping in and out of awe since the day Eric hired me," the Washington-based actor-director said on the phone during a pause in rehearsals for "Part Two: Perestroika," which begins previews July 14. ("Part One: Millennium Approaches," is running through July 3.)
The biggest challenge in staging Tony Kushner's much-awarded play about the ways in which characters deal with the early AIDS epidemic, sexuality, prejudice and Reagan-era politics was, said Gardner, "a sort of balancing of the hugeness of the ideas and the emotions in a small, intimate space." She comforted herself with the realization that the play, despite its big ideas, is "really just a series of two-person scenes . . . but his language is fabulous."
The vociferous anti-Reagan polemics would date both plays if handled incorrectly, Gardner said. "I really concentrated on the human stories. So the politics, the Reagan era, became simply place and time; it became background. I have not politicized 'Part One' at all, I don't think. . . . If you direct a play about AIDS, then it becomes dated. But if you direct a play about people going through huge changes . . . then it becomes relevant and universal."
* Source Theatre reopened May 29 to an audience packed with Washington theater folk, there to tour the renovated 14th Street space and see Nicky Silver's dark familial comedy, "Pterodactyls." Among them were Bart Whiteman, who founded Source 22 years ago and was its first artistic director; Pat Murphy Sheehy, who ran things for a decade after him; and present leader Joe Banno.
* Interact Theatre Co. will present a newly confected Gilbert and Sullivan musical, combining songs from their myriad operettas with an 1877 play by Gilbert and raucous British music hall traditions. "The Very Model of a Major Merry Music Hall" starts previews tomorrow and opens Sunday at Arena Stage's Old Vat Theater. Call 703-218-6500.
* Anyone who can prove her name is Alice will get a free ticket to Horizons Theatre's feminist revue, "A . . . My Name Will Always Be Alice," this Friday night. 703-243-8550.
* "FillerUp! A Show About Jewish Women & Food," a culinary comedy by performance artist Deb Filler, runs through Sunday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. Her film "Punch Me in the Stomach," about growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors in New Zealand, will also be shown. Tonight there'll be post-show discussion instead of the film. 1-800-494-TIXS.
* "Then and Now: The Story of the Allen Chapel AME Church," a theater piece written and performed by young people from that Anacostia congregation and its after-school enrichment program, will be presented at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Woolly Mammoth (1401 Church St. NW). The project is part of the Outside Woolly arts education program. Call 202-393-3939, Ext 525.
* Hal Holbrook, who plays Shylock in the Shakespeare Theatre's current "The Merchant of Venice," will speak at 6 p.m. Monday at the National Press Club in an event sponsored by the Shakespeare Guild and the English-Speaking Union. He'll bring with him Los Angeles educator Rafe Esquith and Esquith's group of inner-city students who act and study the Bard. Call 202-438-8646.
* Washington actor Nancy Robinette ("The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "The Women") and former Washington-based actor Philip Goodwin (recently here as "King John") will act in a premiere at New York Theatre Workshop. "The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek" by Naomi Wallace starts previews Friday. It'll be Robinette's New York debut.
* The previously peripatetic Phoenix Theatre Company will perform at the 1409 Playbill Cafe (1409 14th St. NW) into the year 2000. Its current production features cabaret performer Joseph Perna in "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" through June 26. Call 202-745-0643.
CAPTION: Rick Hammerly as Prior Walter in Signature Theatre's "Angels in America."