Jennie Edwards was nine months pregnant and a week overdue when she and her husband, Michael Freedberg, decided to spend a relaxing evening at the Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill watching "Richard II" -- Shakespeare's tragic tale of a poetic but foolish monarch who bungles away his crown.
The play was halfway through its first act when two actors, armed with heavy, sharp swords, burst on to the stage and began slashing away at each other. "The actors swung once and then twice," Edward recalled. "Then I looked up and one of the swords was coming right at me."
The flying sword skimmed over the heads of two children sitting on the seats in front of her, and then shipped into Edward's face, breaking her eyeglasses and smashing into her nose, she said. Her husband was cut in the face.
"Blood was pouring down my face and my stomach was covered [with blood]," Edwards said the other day. "I looked up and this guy -- a doctor -- leaped over the seats, grabbed a woman's scarf and stuffed it into my face to stop the bleeding."
The couple was rushed to the Washington Hospital Center shortly after the incident to be treated for minor cuts and bruises. They filed a $30,000 negligence suit Thursday in D.C. Superior Court against the trustees of Amherst College, which owns the Folger.
The suit contends that the theater operators "knew or should have known that conducting a sword-fight in a theater . . . constituted an unreasonble risk of harm to the audience."
In addition, the suit maintains that the operators of Folger should have been aware that the swords " were likely to break or come apart" if used regularly in the fight scene and that the actors "were negligently handling the swords."
Paula Bond, press director for the Folger, said that she was surprised that the couple had decided to sue the theater. "We put them in touch with our insurance company right after the incident and thought the situation had been taken care of," Bond said yesterday.
But Robert Case Liotta, attorney for Edwards and her husband, said he reached an impasse with the insurance company -- The Insurance Company of North America -- when the firm attempted to shift liabilty for the accident to the manufacturer of the sword.
"The sword fight scene was supposed to take about a minute," Bond said. "The two actors were supposed to strike their swords together twice, then King Richard was supposed to come and break up the fight."
Instead, after Edwards was struck, Bond said, the actor playing Richard II came out and stopped the show. He then ordered the house lights turned up and asked it there was a doctor in the house.
Edwards, who lives in Northwest Washington, had two blackened eyes and a bruised nose. Her husband's wound required stitches to be closed. She said she will need plastic surgery to remove the final trace of the scar between her eyes.
"When the actors came on stage with the swords, I said to Michael, 'Somebody's going to get hurt.'" said Edwards, who son, Graeme, is now 14 months old. "Michael just said, 'Sure, sure sure,' and he went on watching the play."
"We had season tickets at the time of the accident," Edwards said. "We still receive occassional calls from the theater requesting donations. When I tell them that we are the couple who got hit by the sword, they quickly wish us a pleasant evening and hang up."