What director Kathleen Akerley wants is magic on stage. "I spit on realism," she says. Nor does she like a play that lets her "sit back in my chair and be wholly passive."
So it's no surprise that Akerley's Longacre Lea company will present two absurdist one-acts -- Mac Wellman's "Energumen" and Tom Stoppard's 1968 "The Real Inspector Hound" -- at Catholic University's Callan Theatre Thursday through Sept. 4.
Wellman, an Obie-winning playwright ("A Murder of Crows," "Harm's Way") and professor, can be an acquired taste for mainstream audiences, so Akerley paired his work with a well-loved Stoppard.
"People become tense just hearing that they're going to a Mac Wellman play," Akerley says, and "the very opposite person to that at this time in theater history is Tom Stoppard." So, she reasoned, she could "get people to try out Wellman and then finish out their evening with an absolutely time-tested Tom Stoppard play."
What gives some theatergoers pause about Wellman's plays, Akerley says, is his use of "apparently pointless theatricality" -- for example, prose that is delivered in poetic rhythms. She also cites his "fairly obvious authorial indifference to whether you 'get it.' "
Written about 20 years ago, "Energumen" (an enthusiast, or someone possessed) takes place in Washington and follows a couple of deprogrammers working for a government bigwig to extract his daughter from a religious sect. Except no one is who he seems and corporations in league with government agencies lurk at the core of the play's evildoings.
Lots of playwrights deal with governmental and corporate corruption, but few tinker with structure the way Wellman does, Akerley explains. "I do think that's one of the most demanding ways to startle an audience." People don't expect to see "a poetically fractured play about government and corporations," she notes.
Akerley has cast Michael Glenn and Jason Stiles in minor roles, almost as observers of the action in "Energumen." Then, in "The Real Inspector Hound," they will play two critics, Birdboot and Moon, who get yanked into the play they're supposedly reviewing. She intends them to be surrogates for the audience, probably still puzzling over the Wellman play.
"To have characters take the function of the audience in dealing with theatricality," she says, "sort of makes theatricality okay."
A GALA Season
GALA Hispanic Theatre will open its 30th anniversary year and its first full season next month in the new GALA Theatre-Tivoli, at 3333 14th St. NW in Columbia Heights.
Artistic Director Hugo Medrano says the plays and musical shows he has chosen are all "about rebellions" of one kind or another.
A Spanish comedy, "Te Quiero, Muneca (I Love You, Doll)" by Ernesto Caballero, will run Sept. 15-Oct. 9. Ana Veronica Munoz and Carlos Castillo, who recently starred in "Yerma," will reteam for this "intellectual comedy" about a film critic who invents a robotic woman who objects to her programming. Harold Ruiz will direct.
A three-day run (Nov. 18-20) of "Eyewitness Blues" by Mildred Ruiz and Steven Sapp of the group Universes will feature the two as a down-and-out horn player and his muse. Vignettes will unfold to jazz, flamenco, blues and poetry.
Medrano will direct his adaptation of "El Rufian Castrucho (The Hustler Castrucho)" (Feb. 23-March 19), the Spanish Golden Age comedy by Lope de Vega. The protagonist is a 16th-century Spanish pimp who takes one of his women to Italy, where Spanish troops are garrisoned. It is "unusual for a theater piece of the Golden Age," says Medrano. "It's very psychological. It digs into the character of this guy."
GALA will premiere a Spanish-language version of Washington playwright Karen Zacarias's "The Sins of Sor Juana," which won the Helen Hayes award for outstanding new play in 2000. "Los Pecados de Sor Juana" (April 27-May 21), which GALA has commissioned Zacarias to adapt in Spanish, looks at the life and work of a revered 17th-century nun in colonial Mexico, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, who insisted on writing her plays and poetry despite the church's disapproval.
"Caribeana" (June 29-July 23), a world premiere, will celebrate the music of the islands. Medrano will work with the Trinidadian rapso (rap and calypso) group 3 Canal in creating the show.
ACTCo's Tenth Anniversary
African Continuum Theatre Company will open its 10th season with "I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda" (Sept. 17-Oct. 9). The play, by British dramatist Sonja Linden, is about a survivor of the Rwandan genocide trying to start a new life in London, and the writer-teacher who helps her.
ACTCo will premiere two plays first offered in its Fresh Flavas reading series: "Draft Day" by Marvin McAllister fantasizes about two basketball players about to join the NBA and compares that world with the days of slavery. "Kingdom," by actor David Emerson Toney, is an inner-city take on "Richard III." They will run in repertory Nov. 12-Dec. 11. Artistic Director Jennifer L. Nelson will direct.
Tracey Scott Wilson's "The Story" (Feb. 4-Feb. 26), staged by David Charles Goyette, is inspired by an incident at The Washington Post in which reporter Janet Cooke was found to have fabricated a story that won a Pulitzer Prize.
The season, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St. NE), will finish with a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (May 6-June 11), to be directed by Nelson.
* "The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front," a set of 10 monologues about the Iraq war by veteran Sean Huze, will have its East Coast premiere Aug. 20-Sept. 25 at MetroStage in Alexandria. Produced by out-of-towner Charlie Fink, in association with MetroStage, it is directed by Brett Smock. Uniformed military personnel will be admitted free. Call 800-494-8497 or visit www.metrostage.org for more info.
* Avery Brooks will play Othello opposite Patrick Page's Iago in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's season opener, which begins Aug. 30, staged by Artistic Director Michael Kahn. Some theatergoers will recall Brooks's Othello opposite Andre Braugher as Iago in 1990 at the Folger.