The Bleecker St. Players are a collection of actors, directors, playwrights, and technicians whose stated purpose is the creation of "entirely new works for the theater."
The actors are all unpaid, and some double up backstage as technicians. The overworked technical director of the group's current production, "City of Stone," handles three roles on stage. The stage is an ecclesiastical space in Grace Church on Wisconsin Avenue whose entire lighting resources include four dimmers and a couple of on-off switches.
However, such minor inconvenience are merely a challenge to the Bleecker St. Players. The group was started in 1974 by Selig and Rochelle Kainer, once New Yorkers, and some-what nostalgic for the city's theatrical history.
"The name symbolizes Greenwich Village as it was in the '30s," says Selig Kainer, a playwrighting physicist who works with plasma at the Naval Research Lab. He says he hopes to generate the same spirit of experimentalism in Washington that was present in New York in the '30s. He considers his group "off-off Broadway."
"When we founded the Bleecker St. Players, there was little opportunity for new plays to be produced in Washington - but there were thousands of new plays around. Really, there was practically zero chance for a new playwright," says Kainer. Although he concedes that there are more theaters doing new works now, he still sees a role for his group. "The more the merrier," he says.
Kainer and his wife and two additional readers pore over scripts in a hunt for a workable one. "You have to look at the best in a script. None are perfect," says Kainer.
Once a play is chosen, the Kainers search for a director - in the current case, Kainer directed his own script. The problems of a new script are far more complex than mounting a revival of "You Can't Take It With You," Kainer says. "All of our directors have plenty of nerve."
Auditions bring in new actors as well as old friends, and the company sets to creating the production - usually as a kind of artistic collective or encounter group. (Rehearsals last for six weeks because the actors have to work at something else to pay the rent.)
On occasion, the Bleecker St. effort produces significant results. "Nausea," a multi-media production created by Fredric Lee on the philosophic base of Jean-Paul Sartre, was a critical and popular success.
Many of Bleecker St.'s former actors have moved to New York and the search for greater fame and paychecks. "They work with us, get some courage and then move on. We're kind of a half-way house," sighs Kainer.
The current production at Grace Church concludes the 1977 season. "City of Stone" is a turgid tale of a brilliant architect who is destroyed by society. But the play is so heavy with symbolism that the audience is more relieved than distressed with the architect's demise.
Kainer, who has written plays for 20 years, has a kind of incurable optimism about the theater in general and his own in particular. He says he is soliciting new scripts for the new year and expects a new production in the spring. "I am not ashamed of any play we have put on," he says.
"City of Stone" runs through Sunday at Grace Church in Georgetown.