Here is proof beyond reasonable doubt that there is life -- artistic, provocative, intellectual life -- in the suburbs. This weekend, Reston's CenterStage offers not just one but a pair of events that promise to amuse and excite anyone with more than a passing interest in contemporary theater.
On Saturday night, playwright Tony Kushner will appear in conversation with local activist Ann Rodriquez to discuss culture, art and politics. It's a mix Kushner has woven into a series of remarkable works that have earned him the Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards and just recently an Emmy for the brilliant television adaptation of his groundbreaking two-part play, "Angels in America."
The HBO presentation of the play, truly must-see TV with a cast including Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, was awarded 11 Emmys at the Sept. 19 awards show. (It's just come out on DVD, so there's no excuse to miss it.)
Kushner's work never shirks from tackling risky political sentiments and is infused with a sense of moral responsibility. But as anyone who has experienced "Angels" will attest, his work also hums with great humor and warmth. A gay, Jewish socialist, raised in the South and educated in Manhattan, Kushner creates complex material in which comedy and tragedy exist side by side onstage, just as they do in life.
Rodriquez, meanwhile, brings her passions to the fore as an advocate of the arts, examining issues of human and civil rights, and seeking to build bridges between corporate interests and community responsibilities. She recently became president and chief executive of the Arts Council of Fairfax, is a commissioner of the county Economic Development Authority, sat on the board of the Greater Reston Arts Center and was a "Best of Reston" honoree in 2002.
While Saturday's conversation is sure to hit some deep chords accented by lighter moments, Sunday's theatrical adventure is likely to evoke great laughter that's nonetheless thought-provoking.
"The Matt and Ben Show" mischievously addresses the pre-stardom life of super-celebs Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The wicked premise of the two-person play is that Damon and Affleck's Oscar-winning screenplay for "Good Will Hunting" is not the result of hard work and great talent but a literal gift from above, appearing on the boys' doorstep and offering them a no-dues-necessary break into the big time.
How they decide to proceed with this gift is a frequently hilarious tale that also addresses America's obsessive cult of celebrity.
Adding a layer of delicious oddity to the play is the fact that it was written and originally performed by two great female friends, Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers. The duo created the show when they themselves were unemployed pals looking to jump-start their careers. The Reston cast consists of Quincy Tyler Bernstine and Jennifer Morris.
Although neither Kaling nor Withers is currently the target of rabid paparazzi, the pair has earned high praise for their creation. "The Matt and Ben Show" was named best overall production during a sold-out run at the New York International Fringe Festival and was presented at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Last year, the show opened off-Broadway to great reviews and delighted Manhattan hipsters until May.
Now it belongs to us Reston hipsters, too.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
Reston CenterStage is at the Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Rd., in the Hunters Woods Shopping Center. The center staff says the shows are suitable for ages 18 and older. Tickets are $20 for Saturday's event and $10 on Sunday. Tickets may be reserved by telephone with a credit card or purchased in person during box office hours. For hours, orders, directions and other information, call 703-476-4500.
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