"In Soviet Georgia," says theater and film director Keti Dolidze, "the arts have always been free. I don't know how we arranged it, but the government has always been supportive. We have always been the exception."
She's calling from Tbilisi, the capital of that Soviet republic. There's lots of crackling static and other voices, like an old-fashioned party line. Apparently, it's quite a feat that she's talking on the phone to the United States at all. But she's bubbly and boisterous, partly because that's her nature and partly because she is so excited about the trip she and her theatrical troupe, the Georgian Film Actors' Studio Theater, are about to make to Washington -- their first visit to the United States.
The troupe was founded Jan. 14, 1975 -- Soviet Georgia's centuries-old national holiday for theater. It's based at a film studio in Tbilisi, with a company made completely of movie actors.
"The theater is a very good laboratory for film actors," she says. The company performs all of the plays in Georgian, the official language of the province. And often it presents plays by native Georgians -- for example, "Bakula's Pig," a parable by storyteller David Kldiashvili that recounts, in the silliest of ways, how one man's pigs dig up another man's garden; before the political farce is complete, government officials are called in to settle the situation -- and of course, they don't.
Though the play is performed in Georgian the actors give a synopsis of the piece first. And, Dolidze says, "the actors are physically so well trained and are so big, individually, that you watch them and there is no difficulty understanding."
The second play the theater performs here is its version of the classic "Don Juan" by Moliere. "And since this story is so well known and it is done so beautifully," says Dolidze, "it doesn't need translation."
The Georgian Film Actors' Studio Theatre performs at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 8, and Tuesday and Wednesday at 2. Tickets are $11 to $30. For information call 202-546-4000.
BROWN, SECOND TIME AROUND
Charles Brown's time has come -- again -- and as the 68-year-old rhythm and blues pioneer keeps repeating: "It's amazing!"
"It's the second time around," he purrs, "and ooooooo, it's nice."
In the '40s and '50s, Brown was the blues. With singers such as Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker, he played the nicest of clubs. He was one of the founding fathers of R&B. He made it possible for folks like Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, whom he calls "copycats," to become international musical stars.
"You know, I started Ray Charles and B.B. King," he says selflessly. "I gave B.B. his first job, because I was a star then.
"But," he adds, "of all those people who made it, none of them came back and said, 'Charles Brown is still alive and playing.' " The '60s were the thin years for Brown, when the public and the club owners were rapt with the new generation, the "copycats," and they turned their back on this blues-wailing, piano-playing patriarch.
"I didn't worry about that," he says. "People do what they want. When your time comes, it comes. But it took a white girl with roots in the blues to see it."
That girl was fellow comeback kid Bonnie Raitt.
Brown's musical career had crashed. In the '70s, he quit playing piano. At one point, he was cleaning the homes of some of Hollywood's wealthiest for $75 a pop. "Mostly, I did the windows," he says.
About 10 years ago, he started dabbling in show business again. Played some jazz festivals around the country.
One night, he was performing at a Hollywood nightspot and Raitt came to see him. "She was so taken," he says. Then late last year, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation honored him with a lifetime achievement award in music at the National Museum of American History. Raitt was in town as well. So they went to dinner.
"Bonnie said, 'Charles, you are the greatest piano player alive,' " he recalls. " 'You can really capture an audience.' "
After she won her string of Grammys last winter, Raitt contacted Brown, invited him to tour with her. "It was A-plus!" he says. "I had never been treated so well in my life. I had never played before 10 and 20 thousand people a night. And every night we got standing ovations! And Bonnie said, 'We love you, Charles.' "
Charles Brown performs at the Bayou Thursday night at 9. Tickets are $10 and available at TicketCenter. For information call 301-432-0200.
COLLINS, GONE HOLLYWOOD
Bobby Collins doesn't really want to be a stand-up comic anymore. No, no, no. He wants to be a movie star. He wants his own sitcom. He wants to be a big player in the Hollywood power game. In fact, he thinks he is.
He's just done a movie. "Car 54, Where Are You?," based on the old television series. It has a lot of the show's original actors, like Al Lewis (Grandpa on "The Munsters") and comedian Nipsey Russell. It has New York caberet singer Buster Poindexter. It has Bobby Collins.
"Oh," he pants, "it's going to be great."
He's about to go off and read for a sitcom as soon as this phone conversation is over. The show is called "Birds of a Feather," for ABC.
The show's "horrendous," says Collins in his brash New York accent. "Because they have players like Tracey Ullman's husband in it, they think they have political clout. It'll get on the air. But it won't last."
"God, two years ago," he says of the script reading, "I could have sent you my underwear in a manila envelope and showed you how nervous I was. But now, naaaah. I know it's not going to fly, and I don't care."
He's also been tapped to host a new game show based on the board game "Scruples."
"It's half talk show, half game show," he says. "It's like Oprah giving out money."
All this and he's only been in California for 18 months. Before that, he was living in New York, doing the club circuit there and around the country, David Letterman's show pretty often and some cable TV.
"I used to get recognized once a week," he says. "People would say, 'Hey, you're that comic.' Now, it's 10 times a day."
Oh, the pitfalls of stardom.
Bobby Collins performs at the Comedy Cafe Friday night at 8:30 and 10:30, and Saturday night at 7, 9 and 11. Tickets are $12.49. Call 202-638-JOKE.