Singers sang and the stage lights blazed over the weekend at Source Theatre, which has remained dark for the better part of 18 months while its financial troubles are hashed out. "Paper Moon: A Tribute to Harold Arlen," a cabaret revue presented by the In Series, is one of the few events that have enlivened Source's stage of late. It continues Friday through Sunday and Oct. 15.
The series specializes in cabaret and fresh takes on chamber opera. "Paper Moon" features 21 of Arlen's blues-infused classics written between 1930 and 1954 with such lyricists as E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Johnny Mercer and Truman Capote. Among the titles in the show are "Get Happy," "Over the Rainbow" and "Stormy Weather."
"They're really art songs," observes In Series Executive Director Carla Hubner. "They go in directions that are quite unexpected for the average popular music composition."
But they are not "theatrical in nature," says music director Dan Sticco, who has written new arrangements for the four singers, piano accompaniment and a percussionist. "They're great to listen to on a radio or on an album . . . but when you put them onstage you need to find the essence of the theatricality of each piece," he says. "It needs to go somewhere."
The Act 2 finale, "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues," offers an example. Sticco says he has arranged it as a sort of musical timeline, from spiritual to ragtime to walking bass and "then to this loud, shout gospel." Another number, the tongue-in-cheek "Down With Love," is done as a kind of college song.
While Source Theatre Company has gone into hibernation, the In Series and a couple of other small arts organizations have maintained offices in Source's building at 1835 14th St. NW. The In Series has paid utility bills, kept the building clean and occasionally turned on the stage lights for a show.
A brief festival of new plays took place in the summer, and the Actors' Theatre of Washington performed its all-male "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" there after the troupe's scheduled venue, the new Busboys and Poets bookstore/cafe, delayed its opening.
Actors' Theatre paid a "modest" fee to the In Series as de facto caretakers of the space. "It turned out that a reasonable contribution was enough for everybody to be happy -- utilities paid, Source gets a little, and we have a very, very small income," said Hubner. She hopes to "figure out how this could work on a more regular basis" and to form a consortium with other small arts organizations to keep Source open year-round.
Attorney Edward Sisson, a partner at Arnold & Porter, says that after the company's mortgage, other debts and the rent money owed it by other performance groups are tallied, the question remains whether the theater space, with fewer than 150 seats for most shows, can operate in the black, "no matter who's doing it. Because I know Carla's talking a consortium or whatever, but whatever it is is going to have to go through that same basic calculation." Sisson, who produced nonprofit theater years ago in San Francisco, is trying to help Source's board with that equation.
What's in a Name?
The face is familiar, if not the name. T.J. Edwards acted on major Washington stages from 1985 until 2000. Now he's New York-based actor Jay Edwards, playing one of two "facilitators" in Irene Lewis's production of "King Lear" at Baltimore's Center Stage.
Edwards had a small role in last year's Lincoln Center "Lear," starring Christopher Plummer. "That was the big meal, sumptuous, historical, well-spoken, handsome. . . . But Irene is an iconoclast," Edwards says. Her "Lear" has 11 people in the main roles and Edwards and actor Rod Brogan play everyone else.
"This is a very, very different experience. I love it," he says, calling Lewis's concept "much more raw. . . . It's got a kind of a verve that the Lincoln Center production didn't have."
Edwards's most recent Washington appearance was five years ago in "Inherit the Wind" at Ford's Theatre. He was nominated for Helen Hayes awards for his Hamlet in Washington Shakespeare Company's 1991 production (he was that company's founding artistic director), for "As Is" at Studio Theatre and for "Misalliance" at Arena Stage. As a writer he copped two Hayes awards for outstanding new play, for "New York Mets" and "National Defense," both of which premiered at Woolly Mammoth in the late 1980s.
He married Melanie Nyberg, a former Arena Stage staffer, in 2000 and moved to New York; they now have a 2-year-old daughter. Then he changed his name to Jay. He now feels it was a "huge mistake" and may go back to the old T.J. soon.
The actor has worked in television ("The Sopranos," "Law & Order") and film ("Maid in Manhattan") and often works in regional theater ("Lear" is his seventh Center Stage gig). He notes with frustration that New York producers tend to cast "types." At some auditions, Edwards says, "I've gone into a room and there are 20 guys just like me."
He laments, with a laugh: "Oh, this is a horrible thing to do with one's life," a line he attributes to former Round House artistic director and actor Jerry Whiddon.
Edwards also has gone back to writing plays. Spooky Action Theatre will present the Washington premiere of "Save the Leopard" Oct. 12-Nov. 6 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW.
It's "a kind of 'When Harry Met Sally' story that swirls around an environmental issue," Edwards says. The two-character piece follows a long-term relationship between a cynical PR woman and her lover, a hippie-idealist determined to save the leopards. Edwards uses them to explore what he sees as a conflict between saving animals and saving the poor.
"If you want to take people out of poverty, you have to make them consumers and producers," he says. "You have to destroy habitat to take people out of poverty in poor countries."
* Journeymen Theater Ensemble will do a benefit performance of "The Boys Next Door" for hurricane relief Thursday at the Clark Street Playhouse in Arlington. Call 202-248-2295 or visit www.journeymentheater.org.
* Horizons Theatre will present "The Body Project" Oct. 20-Nov. 13 at the Warehouse Theater. The piece is based in part on Cornell professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg's book about how women and girls perceive their bodies in today's commercial culture. Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas co-wrote and directed. Call 703-578-1100.