As far as Cedar Lane Stage personnel are concerned, there's more to the dog days of a Washington summer than trying to think of ways to stay cool.
Each year, from mid-July through mid-August, they present a "summer sampler" of one-act plays. The one-act season includes six groups of productions, performed every Sunday and Thursday night.
So far this summer, the stage has produced Noel Coward's "Shadow Play," Moliere's "The First Marriage" and "The Jealous Husband," George Axelrod's "The Seven-Year Itch," Dan Greenburg's "The Restaurant," Joanna Glass's "Canadian Gothic" and a musical for children, "Free to Be you and Me."
One production, which closed last week, offered two plays: "Winners," a twisting and turning Irish romance by Brian Friel, and "An Evening With Emily Dickison," an adaption of William Luce's "The Belle of Amherst."
"Winners" reflects modern-day Ireland and unfolds in the manner of a wordy newspaper feature. It is the first half of a two-part evening conceived by Friel, who is best known for "Philadephia, Here I come." (The other half, a chronicle of a hapless and dreadful marriage, aptly called "Losers," is not on the playbill with "Winners.")
The story of "Winners" centers on the wide-open relationship of Mag, a pregnant 17-year-old, and Joe, her effervescent fiance . Two narrators describe the events of Mag's and Joe's lives, as seen by other people who have known them. Against this background Joe and Mag act out, in flashbacks, the various events the narrators describe.
Michael Mayer, as Joe, produces a likable Irish dialect -- even with a mouthful of apples -- and breezes through his role of a courtship jester, His exaggerations of the characters in in his life, one of them a stammerer, are ticklers.
Mag, played by Karen Loiderman, is a Eugene O'Neill woman throughout: full of doubt, melancholy and overbuoyancy. She rolls around the furnitureless floor with an authenticity that belies the amateur production.
All the way up to the open-ended, curious climax, narrators Wayland Coe (Man) and Annie Wauters (Woman) set a serious, detective-like tone.
The Cedar Lane production is performed on a bare floor with the audience seated around the players. Through well-driven dialogue and movement, even without atmosphere-producing sets, director Janet Rodney captures Friel's poignant dramatic intent.
In the second production, Elizabeth Braden, though years younger than the 30ish Emily Dickinson portrayed here, reveals a highly believable vision of the American poet.
The Audience, an intimate one of less than 100 people, was hers as she constantly questioned, cajoled and even offered real pieces of her own "black cake."
This is a trimmed-down version (45 minutes) of Luce's vehicle for actress Julie Harris. In it, Braden engaged seven invisible guests and a dog in running conversation, and ably sustained the character of the most distinguished (and some say, the most eccentric) citizen of Amherst, Mass. She swept around the stage in a white dress of the Civil War period, her hair brushed back and bobbed, tossing out weighty thought after weighty thought. Intertwining the words, taking aim at one's intellect and avoiding tendencies to overact, Braden made many a new friend for this belle of Amherst.
During a recent performance, Braden experienced the adversity of having to speak over rolls of thunder. At one point, she spoke, "Once, the clock stopped during a thunderstorm." As if on cue, lightning flashed; a split second later the thunder came.
Cedar Lane Stage uses the Cedar Lane Unitrian Church in Bethesda to stage its productions. The stage also is a center for amateur theater that occasionally takes on professional trappings. These informal presentations are open to all theater personnel, from new playwrights to experienced directors. The stage has produced readings, poetry, musicals and "events that defy description." Due to limits of time and space each production must come together with no more than six rehearsals.
Cedar Lane closes its summer sampler at 8:30 tonight with performances of Taylor and Bologna's Johnny and Wilma" and Murray Schisgal's "Dr. Fish." Admission to these casual -- and air conditioned -- productions is $2.
The fall season is to begin in late November. Theater spokesmen Dick Smith and Jane Baker admit that Cedar Stage is "the last theater group to decide on a season" and suggest that "those who have an idea they have longed to try," call them. Smith's number is 362-9286; Baker's is 299-2797.