When host Al Olberg announces, "The curtain will rise!" a bit of imagination is in order.
There is no curtain in sight aside from the draperies at the windows. But Olberg's living room in his Northwest apartment has, nevertheless, become a makeshift theater--with the chairs and couches arranged at one end of the room to seat the audience of about 20, and props arranged near the windows to set the stage for the Calvert-Woodley Players' final performance of the season.
The Calvert-Woodley Players, primarily tenants at the Calvert-Woodley apartments, 2601 Woodley Place NW., meets once a month from September to June for drinks, dinner and a play reading.
Tenant James J. Chastain, a Howard University professor, organized the theater group four years ago because he had belonged to a similar amateur troupe when he lived in Chicago.
"I was intrigued by the closeness generated by that group," said Chastain, who decided it could be duplicated at the Calvert-Woodley. The building manager supplied a list of tenants, and Chastain put notices proposing the idea in his neighbors' mailboxes and on the walls of the laundry room.
Thomas H. Peebles, a lawyer, was one of those intrigued with the suggestion of a theater group and came to the meeting.
"I was a little taken aback," recalled Peebles, who joined up. "It was a bit different from what I had in mind. I don't think anyone expected anything quite so active."
About 35 of the nearly 500 tenants of the Calvert-Woodley apartments belong to the C-W Players, and every person who attends the monthly gatherings acts, directs or brings food.
The participants range in age from 18 to 80, Chastain said, "and we all have different politics and philosophies." Singles, couples, parents, grandparents and children come together for the monthly readings. They are a diverse group professionally as well, working as lawyers, government executives, writers and real estate workers.
"It's kind of an interesting way to meet people in the building who you might not ordinarily meet," said Carolyn Johnston, a retired public relations director and the group's secretary.
The readings, held at 5 p.m. Sundays, are typically one-act plays involving three to five actors and lasting about an hour. Two to three times a year the group performs an original play written by one of its members.
"The plays are mostly comedies because, let's face it, we're not all great actors," Johnston said. This spring's final performance was "The Flattering Word," a comedy by George Kelly.
The C-W Players rehearse only once--two days before their performance, and the props, sound effects and costuming can be as elaborate as the director chooses.
The setting for "The Flattering Word" was relatively simple--the living room of a minister's home in Youngstown, Ohio. Some improvisation was required in the props, however, and the audience chuckled as a picture of Richard Nixon was substituted for a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.
The ad-libbing of the actors as they fumbled with their scripts (there is no time to memorize lines) and the unexpected disturbances of a plane flying low past the building and the loud ringing of the telephone somewhere in the middle of the audience added to the humor of the performance.
As the actors concluded their performances and took their bows, Olberg began warming up the grills for the barbeque that was to follow on his patio.
"We may not have a lot of good acting, but we have a lot of good fellowship," he said.