Washington Stage Guild may have finally found a downtown development project that will include a theater space just for it. If all goes well, the company's new address will be 801 E St. NW, in a planned office complex behind the International Spy Museum.
"Anybody coming from anywhere can be within two blocks of the theater on Metro," says a delighted John MacDonald, producing artistic director. "And we're right around the corner, literally, from Shakespeare Theatre, and we'll be a block and a bit from Woolly" Mammoth Theatre Company.
MacDonald says Stage Guild has signed a letter of intent with the developer, Boston Properties. Peter Johnston, a senior vice president at the firm's Washington office, confirmed that the company is negotiating with Stage Guild to create a theater space in the building's lower level. He noted that the property is in the city's designated theater district, so a performance venue there will fulfill a zoning requirement.
The company has been performing for a couple of years at 14th and T streets NW in a building owned by Arena Stage. MacDonald says he hopes they'll be able to continue using it until their new home is ready, perhaps by fall 2007. The current venue can accommodate only 95 patrons; the new theater will seat about 200, he estimates. To outfit the interior, MacDonald says, the company will have to raise upward of $1 million.
A Festival of Four
Currents of hostility and fear flowing beneath the surface of American life find comic, dramatic expression in the works of the four playwrights showcased at this year's Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Previews start tomorrow, and the festival runs through Aug. 1.
In Richard Dresser's "Rounding Third," two polar-opposite dads -- one gung-ho, the other passive -- coach a youth baseball team. "I have been both these guys," says the playwright, who has coached his son's team. "I don't think one of these guys is good and one of these guys is bad." The play is "a character comedy," he explains. "It really isn't about Little League. It's about how men get along and don't get along and that competitive streak and how they deal with it."
Dresser based "Rounding Third" on an incident involving his son's team. The boy told him that the team had "a new strategy for the playoffs" that involved runners feigning injury so the coach could put in speedier replacements. "I was appropriately appalled at this," says the playwright, but adds, "It was a great nugget to build on for a play."
Lee Blessing's "Flag Day" comprises two one-acts on racial themes -- one funny, the other grim, both bitter. "There is an enormous suppressed rage and an enormous suppressed guilt that have been created out of the historical record in this country between whites and blacks," observes Blessing. "The plays are about . . . our need to address it."
In "Good Clean Fun," an African American man and a white man share an office. When either feels hostile, he takes out an egg timer and hurls racial insults at the other fellow until it dings. With every rant, more layers of information about the men are peeled. "Down and Dirty" is based on a bizarre hit-and-run, in which an African American woman struck a homeless white man and left him embedded in her windshield until he died.
"One of the weird pleasures of 'Good Clean Fun' is that it allows audiences to hear the things that people actually feel and certainly never express in front of someone of the other race," Blessing says. He hopes they'll then be ready for the second play to take them to "a deeper meditation and exploration of the theme."
In a post-9/11 world, there's plenty of blame and ambiguity, according to Stuart Flack's "Homeland Security." In the play, a doctor of South Asian ancestry and his girlfriend are pulled out of an airport line for interrogation. At first it appears the doctor is a victim of racial profiling, but it turns out he may indeed have some dubious associations.
"To me, what all this is really about is the . . . destruction of [the] trust . . . that we all take for granted, that allows us to live the way that we live," Flack says. "Once it starts happening, even the slightest bit, I think it starts to very quickly unweave the fabric that we're all resting on."
He's tried to keep the play's point of view ambiguous and above the current political fray. "In the political discourse that we're engaged in -- and calling it a discourse is very flattering -- there's no complexity and there's no context and there's no room for subtlety where subtlety exists," Flack says.
"The Rose of Corazon: A Texas Songplay," by Keith Glover (whose "Thunder Knocking on the Door" ran at Arena Stage), tells a tale with a dash of magic realism about a Spanish war bride who comes to south Texas in the 1940s. Glover wrote the book and the lyrics, collaborated on the music with Billy Thompson and George Caldwell, and is directing.
"When you're directing your own work, you have to re-learn that work. Writing is more intuitive; directing is more analytical," he says. Inspiration for the musical came when "all of a sudden one day, I had in my mind this woman who's by the river." She's Spanish, so how did she get to Texas? "Her husband has to be a serviceman," Glover says.
The score is "a fusion of various forms -- of European style, of very uniquely American musical theater . . . with music of the mariachis," he says. A guitar, piano and drum trio will play for the show. Glover says theater folk need to forget the canard about musicals that "if you can't do them huge, you can't do them." His jazz and blues background showed him otherwise. "I've always been taught to do stuff in duos and trios and quintets . . .," he says. "It's still a strong, robust sound."
* The Kennedy Center reports that "The Producers" set an Opera House box-office record for a musical, bringing in nearly $1.1 million in its first week. It broke the record of about $1.03 million, held by "Phantom of the Opera" since 1997.
* The free D.C. Hip Hop Theater Festival, July 12-17, will feature performers from across the country and England doing plays, poetry, dance and music. Venues include the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre and Howard University. Check the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities' Web site at dcarts.dc.gov for a schedule.