Stephen Massicotte likes to include romance in his plays -- even in the two horror films he has written.
The Theater Alliance is presenting the Canadian writer-actor's highly emotional World War I-era love story, "Mary's Wedding," at the H Street Playhouse through Sept. 5. It traces the love between a young woman recently moved to Canada from England and an unsophisticated local boy. Told in dreamlike non-linear style, it loops up and back in time between their first meeting, his duty in the trenches and life afterward.
The play's depictions of the charge at Moreuil Wood and Canadian Lt. Gordon Muriel Flowerdew are based on fact. Massicotte recently visited the battlefield in France during a trip to England for the filming of his upscale horror script "The Dark." He also visited Flowerdew's grave. "Numbers don't really mean anything until you see the gravestones," he says.
"I'm a big history buff," says Massicotte, 35. He says he was writing "outside of my own direct era" for the first time in "Mary's Wedding," but the real inspiration seemed to come from his own experiences.
"I fell in love with this girl when I started writing this play, and I wrote the play through our relationship, and when the relationship was ending, I wrote the ending of the play," he says. "I set out to write a play about the First World War and politics . . . but the love story began to take over more and more. 'Mary's Wedding' is definitely an antiwar play," Massicotte says.
It was only the third or fourth play he had written as a struggling actor just out of college. "The Boy's Own Jedi Handbook," which he wrote while at the University of Calgary, took off first.
"I was working at a video store and I was working at a coffee shop and I was writing ['Mary's Wedding],' " he recalls. "People ask how did it become so successful" -- it has had about 15 Canadian productions and a few elsewhere -- "and I say I'm not sure," but "audiences really connect with it. . . . It is emotional. It is about love. It is sweet and innocent."
Massicotte is working on a play about T.E. Lawrence's friendship with writer Robert Graves.
"We have to all -- women, men, everybody -- just find a place of equality. It sounds terribly sentimental or whatever, but I do believe that," says Deborah Lou Randall. She is the executive director of the feminist Venus Theatre, where idealism, not dollars, sets the tone.
Operating on a shoestring budget, Venus will open its third annual festival, "Bad Girls III: The Redemption," at Warehouse Theater's black box space, Aug. 19-Sept. 12.
The evening of short plays will include a vintage suffragist piece from England, "A Chat With Mrs. Chicky"; "Lillian Goes to the Mirror," about life after a mastectomy; and works about lesbian love affairs, mismatched mothers and daughters and other realms of the female experience.
Randall, 37, founded Venus about 10 years ago and morphed it from a sort of street theater to a nonprofit entity in 2000. She seems to enjoy the dichotomy of running a "guerrilla theater" that is also professional. In 2002, she notes, Venus performed "Mrs. Chicky" in Lafayette Park "illegally," with the Code Pink antiwar group.
Venus receives no grants, so Randall's budget comes from donations and ticket sales. Nor does she have a staff. "People get excited about it and they want to . . . help me and then there's this kind of exhaustion that sets in," she says. "We're about empowerment, so I would never want to keep anybody here that doesn't want to be here." Thus, Randall admits, "yes, it's a one-woman show, [but] I'm in denial."
Venus does only two shows a year, though Randall plans a third this fall to coincide with the elections. At other times she works with her partner, singer-songwriter and guitar instructor Alan Scott.
She grew up in Prince George's County, began acting after college at venues such as Source's summer festival and Studio Secondstage. She joined the satirical troupe Gross National Product, playing Hillary Rodham Clinton, Linda Tripp and Paula Jones. "I've been at every nice hotel in Washington impersonating Hillary Clinton," she jokes.
She began to write and perform monologues, then "realized that theater really is collaborative" and founded Venus. "I'm always looking for a strong ensemble, because I feel that's where the power is," Randall says. She also looks for "themes that I feel affect my life as a woman. . . . The other side of the story is what I'm looking for."
Have a Seat
Studio Theatre still has about 110 used theater seats to give away to lean and hungry small theater companies. The seats come from Studio's two performance spaces on 14th Street NW, which will be renovated to coordinate the decor with Studio's brand-new third stage, set to open in November as part of a big expansion.
Classika Theater in Arlington (now merged administratively with Synetic Theater) took 200 of the original 400 seats. The Ice House Theater Project in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., took 90 seats.
Studio's Morey Epstein says to call 202-232-7267 if you're interested in any of the remaining 110.
* Cherry Red Productions will bring six new playlets squealing into the world Saturday at the Warehouse Theater from 8 to 11 p.m. The 24-hour Day-Old Plays project will start Friday evening, with six playwrights click-clacking on their laptops all night at the Warehouse. Saturday morning, six directors, about 40 actors, five producers and a stage manager will rehearse the works for the evening showcase. Call 202-298-9077 or visit www.cherryredproductions.com.
* Quotidian Theatre Company, which performs at the Bethesda Writer's Center, will open next season with "The Weir" (Oct. 29-Nov. 28), Conor McPherson's setting of Irish ghost stories told in a pub, followed by Horton Foote's "The Roads to Home" (April 15-May 15) and Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" (June 10-July 10). Visit www.quotidiantheatre.org.