Nestled under the peeling but still ornate dome of the 1920s-era Tivoli movie palace at 14th Street and Park Road NW sits GALA Hispanic Theatre's nearly finished new space. The dusty concrete expanse of stage (1,000 square feet of performance space) and auditorium awaits seats, curtains and a steel grid for stage lights.

GALA is responsible for equipping and decorating the space, but the theater's shell was constructed by Tivoli Square's developers. Horning Brothers installed a new floor about halfway up the cavernous vault of the old cinema, giving GALA a space under the dome for an intimate, 264-seat theater. The rest of the Columbia Heights landmark is in the noisy midst of becoming a $37 million retail, office and residential development, with GALA as its arts anchor.

A public-private partnership, the project gestated for a long time and GALA couldn't start its own fundraising until the deal was greenlighted. Managing Director Rebecca Read seems a little breathless at what still needs to be done before the theater space's January dedication.

To restore the dome to its gilded glory would cost about $300,000, Read says. The campaign to raise the $3.8 million for completing the theater began a year ago. They've reached $2.3 million, she says, and are courting donors to pay for chunks of the theater in return for having the chunks named after them -- a seat for $2,500, a dressing room for $30,000, etc. "The fundraising will continue to the end of '05 and probably into '06," she says, but "we intend to be up and operating at least part of our season here."

The dedication weekend starts Jan. 7, when actress Rita Moreno will host a dinner. The first play to run in the space will be Federico Garcia Lorca's "Yerma," staged by Artistic Director Hugo Medrano (Read's husband), Feb. 17-March 13.

The main stage season begins next month, with the new musical "Mexico: Noches Bohemias (Bohemian Nights)" (Oct. 7-17), inspired by the writings of Alberto Domingo about Mexico City's caldron of intellectual life and art in the 1960s. Staged by Abel Lopez, it will be at the Cultural Institute of Mexico. After "Yerma" inaugurates the Tivoli space, Lopez also will direct "Real Women Have Curves" (May 5-29), the play by Josefina Lopez that inspired the 2002 film about Latinas working and arguing about life in a Los Angeles sweatshop. "Real Women" will be in English. For the other plays, Read says, GALA will introduce titles above or alongside the stage for non-Spanish speakers.

From Scar to Shakespeare

"This is a play about the consequences of actions. . . . If this was about killing a king, the play would be over in the first act," says actor Patrick Page of "Macbeth." He assays the title role nine times a week at the Shakespeare Theatre through Oct. 24.

One could argue that Iago is a sociopath and Richard III a psychopath -- neither one with much of a conscience. Macbeth, on the other hand, "probably has the most developed conscience of any character Shakespeare ever wrote," Page says. ". . . as soon as he imagines something -- and he imagines things so vividly -- he imagines the consequences and the moral repercussions of it."

A veteran classical actor who has appeared at Shakespeare festivals in Oregon, Utah, New York and Alabama, and who has created solo shows around Shakespearean subjects, the 40-year-old Page first played Macbeth at age 27, then again at 35. "For me, it's better when you're a little older," he says.

He signed on to play his latest Macbeth at the last minute, two weeks before the start of rehearsals. When actor Douglas Sills dropped out to take a movie role, Page was on Broadway playing the wicked usurper Scar in "The Lion King." (He'll return to the role after "Macbeth" closes.)

Of course, Scar in particular and "The Lion King" in general owe much to Shakespeare's tragic themes. "When you're doing a musical," Page says, "dialogue scenes generally are very, very spare and truncated." For that reason, he says, the actor must "have a backstory" in his head to lend depth to the role. When Scar becomes king and is haunted by the ghost of his murdered brother, all that Shakespearean "backstory" comes into play, says Page.

And when he returns to "The Lion King" after doing "Macbeth" here, the actor says, "I have no doubt all of those scenes will be even richer."

Charter Theatre Offerings

Charter Theatre, devoted to new works, will open its season with Washington writer Allyson Currin's "The Subject" (Sept. 24-Oct. 14 at the Warehouse, 1021 Seventh St. NW), a dark comedy about romance and obsession between a waitress and a photographer. Directed by Charter member Richard Washer, it stars Kathleen Coons and Chris Stezin. Washington acting coach Rick Fiori will star in his solo piece "I'm in Love With the President!" (Oct. 3-10 at Warehouse, and Oct. 15-30 at National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, 1556 Wisconsin Ave. NW). "Sacred Cows" (Jan. 7-30, National Conservatory), starring comedy duo Jim Helein and Mario Baldessari, skewers religion in America. Washer's "Of a Sunday Morning" (May 13-June 5, National Conservatory) is a futuristic play about a woman's spiritual quest in an authoritarian society obsessed with national security. Artistic Director Keith Bridges will stage it. Call 202-333-7009 or visit www.chartertheatre.org.

Follow Spots

* At Signature Theatre's fresh-air unveiling Friday of architectural plans for its two-theater Shirlington Village venue, slated to open in early 2006, Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer announced they'll open the smaller, 99-seat experimental space with a new musical, "Nevermore," with lyrics taken from Edgar Allan Poe. The composer is Matt Connor and the playwright is Norman Allen.

* Playwright Edward Albee and a favorite performer of his work, actress Marian Seldes, will appear at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Friday to read from Albee's 1976 "Counting the Ways" for the annual William Faulkner Birthday Reading for PEN/Faulkner. Call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.

* Trumpet Vine Theatre Company will open its season with "Desire" by Barcelona playwright Josep M. Benet i Jornet (translated by Sharon Feldman), directed by Paul Donnelly. The psychological drama, about a woman who confronts a presumed stalker, runs Sept. 25-Oct. 16 at Theater on the Run in Arlington. Call 703-912-1659 or visit www.trumpetvinetheatrecompany.org.

The dome of the former Tivoli movie house looms over construction of GALA Hispanic Theatre's new $3.8 million venue, expected to be ready by January.Patrick Page interrupted his run on Broadway playing the evil Scar in "The Lion King" to take the title role in the Shakespeare Theatre's "Macbeth."