Through Nov. 28
Theater J at D.C. Jewish Community Center
A single design concept links this trilogy of Arthur Miller one-acts, one that is both seasonally relevant and metaphoric. Throughout "The Ryan Interview," "I Can't Remember Anything" and "The Last Yankee," the actors shuffle through fallen leaves that mound up around them like snowdrifts. Overhead, a large wreath of intertwining branches is suspended, with a simple metal bed at its center.
None of the playlets takes place outside, but the woodsy set design somehow fits in perfectly with the wistful, at times melancholy, tone of the evening. It's no surprise that it works so well. Set designer Danila Korogodsky and director Shira Piven have collaborated on nearly a dozen shows, among them "The Old Neighborhood" and "Waiting for Lefty/Still Waiting," both at Theater J.
Korogodsky, who was born and educated in Russia, "grew up in a whole different way of thinking," Piven says. His designs are "all about metaphor, ultimately. They are much less tied to the world that's described in the play and more in touch with the essence of the play, and trying to express that essence through a poetic image."
"The first question was how to unify those three stories, which were never really intended to be together," Korogodsky says. "They all have to do with aging and time passing, but in a very intangible way that's hard to catch. It's like the autumn of your life."
In "The Ryan Interview," a reporter visits a man on his 100th birthday to glean some history from him and finds out that the past is still very much alive in the lonely man's mind. "I Can't Remember Anything" is an affectionate look at two old friends, one still grieving over the death of her spouse and grappling with solitude and memory loss. In "The Last Yankee," a middle-aged couple is juxtaposed with an elderly one at a mental institution, where both wives are being treated for depression.
In all three, as the characters absent-mindedly heap up the leaves, crunch them under their feet or stretch out in them, we are reminded of fading beauty and the oncoming chill of death. But also, there's a sense of the continuation of life. Miller, who is in his eighties and wrote these plays in the past decade, leaves an unmistakable mark of optimism.
In a way, the plays -- and the set -- comment on Miller himself. Says Korogodsky: "He's at a certain point in his life when you're forced to think of your legacy -- and what's next."