"I'm always looking for something that's going to tear my heart out and throw it over the first three or four rows," said director Kasi Campbell. "I hope that's how the audience feels, that they get really carried away emotionally with what's happening onstage." Her production of Brian Friel's "Faith Healer," a series of hypnotic monologues, runs through Nov. 24 at Rep Stage.
Campbell has become one of the more dependable directors in the Washington area, though she never strays from little Rep Stage in Columbia, an Equity company that performs at Howard Community College. Since its 1993 inception, Rep Stage has attracted about 40 percent of its audience members from outside Howard County, some from as far away as Arlington. ("Bless their hearts," said Campbell.) Beltway-bound critics have learned to fill up their gas tanks and go when Campbell directs.
The recent deaths of both her parents have made an emotional outlet essential, she said, veering Campbell even more toward poetic Irish dramatists such as Friel. "It seems strange I kept dealing with plays about death over the last year," she mused, starting with "The Lonesome West," then "Da" and "Faith Healer." I think I've worked through this now," she said.
Campbell did not have it easy growing up in Franklin, Pa., a Rust Belt town in the western part of the state. Her parents were estranged when she was 3. Her father, she said, was a ne'er-do-well and a convicted car thief who lived off welfare and deer hunting. Her mother was a clerk-typist. Campbell attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania with the intention of becoming an orchestral conductor, but she experienced hearing problems that made it difficult for her to discern low notes. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with a master's degree in theater.
She was a scholarship student all the way, which is why she cleaves so devotedly to HCC. "I feel real strongly about students . . . who are struggling without the most ideal support in terms of finances or home life," Campbell said.
Barely five feet tall and with an unpretentious manner, the 51-year-old Campbell is married to Shawn Riley, who works at Anne Arundel Community College, having left Army intelligence when their daughter was born 12 years ago. In addition to directing, Campbell works at HCC as a staff administrator for Rep Stage and teaches a theater class each semester. "It's nothing for me to have a 17-year-old and an 80-year-old in the same class," she said with pride.
Wacky Scrooge Redux
Norman Allen thought he'd like to write a "whacked-out" version of "A Christmas Carol" for Signature Theatre, where he's a resident playwright. A history buff, he decided to set his tale in the 1911 New York melting pot, with Donna Migliaccio as a female Scrooge. "The Christmas Carol Rag" starts previews tonight and runs through Dec. 22.
"I'm delighted when people say I can do something off the wall or out of the ordinary," said Migliaccio last week. A co-founder of Signature with Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer (who's directing this show), she has played a wide range of roles there, from Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" to Mama Rose in "Gypsy." This role lets her exercise her legendary lung power. "I do a lot of yelling in this one. It's so much fun to make the audience jump."
Because of the play's time and setting, Allen said, "there's a whole immigrant thing going." Mrs. Scrooge is from Scotland, the ghost of Christmas Past is Jewish and the Ghost of Christmas Present is African American. The music, researched by Allen, Migliaccio and arranger Howard Breitbart, is a selection of songs from the late 1800s to 1918, including music by Victor Herbert ("The Streets of New York"), George M. Cohan ("Then I'd Be Satisfied With Life") and traditional carols.
For Scrooge's final enlightenment, they were stumped for a tune. Then, mid-rehearsal, Migliaccio smacked her forehead. "I suddenly went, 'Got it! Got it!' " Her idea was "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," its lyrics taken from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (music by John Baptiste Calkin). The words "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep" are ones Mrs. Scrooge "needs to hear," said the actress. "So much of this is [about] Scrooge wanting to become part of the human race again."
Tapping at the Top
"I'm past that," said 13-year-old Cartier A. Williams when asked whether he would like to attend the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. He wasn't being boastful. The Washington native plays 'Da Kid opposite dance phenom Savion Glover in "Bring In 'da Noise, Bring In 'da Funk," the much-lauded dance-based chronicle of the African American experience in 20th-century show business, which whirls into the Warner Theatre tonight through Sunday.
'Da Kid, Cartier said, "thinks he's a hoofer, but in Hollywood they tell him, 'You can't be a hoofer.' . . . He ends up being in the minstrel show," where he at least gets to dance. Working with Glover has been an honor, said Cartier. "He gives me advice, he tells me when I'm wrong."
Cartier's already lengthy professional bio says he recently danced in the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, has toured with Glover in "Footnotes," appeared in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" and danced with Glover -- who has dubbed him Big Coop -- at the White House.
When he's home he goes to Hardy Middle School in Georgetown, but during the year-long "Noise" tour his mother, Aleicia, will teach him. The honor student would like to become an engineer "and then make a roller coaster."
Cartier traces his love of tap dancing to seeing Maurice Hines in "Jelly's Last Jam" when he was little. Now "I practice all the time, I'm always dancing," he said. "I just do it all. I dance, I fly, I can dance soft, I can dance hard, I can dance hard-core."
* African Continuum Theatre Company will perform Athol Fugard's classic "Blood Knot" Thursday through Dec. 1 in the Kennedy Center's AFI Theater. Call 202-467-4600.
* Ford's Theatre will hold auditions the first week in December for its March 12-June 1 production of "1776." The musical needs male singers, ages 28 to 55, a female soprano in her twenties who can "belt," and a strong female singer, mid-thirties to mid-forties. Send photos and bios to: Patricia Humphrey, General Manager, Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004.