After a long summer lull, the 2005-06 season in Fairfax County theater is revving up, promising a mix of old (some might even say musty) favorites and ambitious works. One of the county's two professional theater companies is successfully reemerging from a fallow period, while the other one is saying goodbye .
With the competition to attract audiences growing ever more intense, several well-established groups are playing it safe by offering familiar plays and musicals. However, there is also enough new or challenging material on the calendar to interest patrons looking for something more adventuresome:
The First Amendment
This weekend, the professional Theater of the First Amendment (www.gmu.edu/cfa/tfa) is wrapping up its run of "Three Hotels," Jon Robin Baitz's two-character drama, after receiving generally positive reviews. The show is performed at George Mason University's Harris Theater, a 500-seat venue with a traditional proscenium and a thrust stage that Theater of the First Amendment hopes will be its steady home as it eases back into producing a regular roster of shows.
In January, Theater of the First Amendment will premiere "Lift: Icarus and Me," a new musical from Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox, a talented team who previously created "Sing Down the Moon," "Nathan the Wise," "Perseus Bayou" and "Odyssey of Telemaca." For "Lift: Icarus and Me," Hall and Surface have once again turned to the classics for their inspiration, this time the myth of the high-flying Icarus and his inventor-father, Daedalus. Transplanted from ancient Greece to the arid expanses of East Texas, this version of the fable features ragtime and Texas swing music and rodeos.
The Center Company
The Center Company, a professional theater company in residence at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, will remain dark, disappointing theatergoers who have appreciated the Fairfax-based group's mix of thought-provoking and carefully staged plays over the years. Turnover in management and other commitments are taking the time of the artistic director. As a result, the troupe will be dormant indefinitely, perhaps permanently.
McLean Drama Company
A new semiprofessional group, McLean Drama Company, plans a low-profile season, waiting until June to debut a new play from McLean playwright Rachel Bail called "Lady Macbeth."
Bail's concept is that the scheming widow was not a murderess but actually a loyal Scotswoman, based on a strong genealogical claim to the throne. "Lady Macbeth" will have a brief run, June 16-18 at the McLean Community Center's Alden Theatre. The group is also holding two 10-minute-play contests, one for high school students in McLean, the other for high school students throughout Fairfax County. The deadline for entries is Jan. 1. Three winning plays in each category will be given a reading.
Elden Street Players
The area's busiest and most consistently satisfying theater company, the Elden Street Players of Herndon, is preparing a season full of its trademark combination of groundbreaking, edgy dramas, raucous comedies and new musicals. Its season opens Oct. 28 with young Irish playwright Conor McPherson's "The Weir," a trio of ghost stories set in a gloomy pub nestled in the remote Irish countryside, with the wind howling outside, of course.
That's all a lot of fun, but in January, the cast will challenge its audiences with the work of the often-inscrutable Tom Stoppard, who is never more enigmatic than with his surreal "The Invention of Love." The subject is English poet A.E. Housman, who is newly deceased as the audience meets him here and is being rowed along the river Styx by Charon, the mythological Greek ferryman of the dead. The drama veers back and forth between 1936, when Housman died, and his days as a young man at Oxford. Unfathomable? Certainly. But it is also filled with elegant discourse on how tenuous life is and how challenging it is to comprehend intangible truth.
After allowing audiences a suitable rest, the Elden Street Players (www.eldenstreetplayers.org) return to the Industrial Strength Theatre in March with Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Three Tall Women," a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant reflection on life by a woman in her nineties. It's on to wild comedy in June with "The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)," which does for the Bible what "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," a huge hit for Elden Street in 2004, did for the Bard. And they'll top off the season in July with "Blood Brothers," a little-known musical by Willy Russell telling the story of twins who were separated at birth and live quite different lives until fate reunites them.
The Elden Street Players also have a full schedule of shows for young audiences, including "The Emperor's New Clothes," in November, "Rapunzel" in February, "Something Different 2006" in April and "Alice in Wonderland" in June.
Reston Community Players
The Reston Community Players (www.restonplayers.org) have the first community theater offering on the stage this season, with their lavish production of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," now in mid-run at CenterStage theater at the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods.
The familiar story, set to music, is a long evening for the kids, but most enjoy the gentle Beast. The show runs to Oct. 9, although it could be extended, theater officials said. After that it's back to standard fare, with Arthur Miller's classic (and much produced) "The Crucible" in January and English writer Ray Cooney's insipid (and much produced) comedy "Run for Your Wife" in May. A bright spot on the Reston calendar is in March, when they will present "Gershwin, by George!" This fantasy radio program, circa 1936, features the era's big stars and of course Gershwin's marvelous songs.
American Music Stage
The peripatetic American Music Stage (www.americanmusicstage.com), having abandoned the terrible acoustics of the Ernst Theater at Northern Virginia Community College for the vastly superior Heet Auditorium at Paul VI High School in Fairfax this last season, is back at the ear-challenging theater in Annandale. And it's taking on a mighty musical challenge: "Aida," Elton John and Tim Rice's sprawling extravaganza. They're already selling tickets for the May performances of this recent Broadway blockbuster about the love between an enslaved African princess and her captor, an Egyptian army captain.
The relatively new Providence Players (www.providenceplayers.org) seem to be settling into a niche: presenting a comfortable combination of standards along with not-so-familiar fare on their Falls Church area stage. They begin Oct. 14 with the frequently produced farce "The Women," but in February will move on to Robert Anderson's rarely staged, probing drama "I Never Sang for My Father," which studies the chasm between a father and a son. That will be followed in May by Stephen Sondheim's demanding musical "Company," a show firmly ensconced in 1970s-era sensibilities about love and commitment.
McLean Theatre Alliance
The McLean Theatre Alliance (www.mcleantheatrealliance.org) has only one announced show so far for this season and it opens Oct. 7. Under edict from the Alden Theatre to fill more seats, the Alliance has chosen A.R. Gurney's bare-bones but absorbing "Love Letters," a poignant, two-character drama about a bittersweet love relationship presented via letters the couple have written through the years. (A review is scheduled for Oct. 13 in Fairfax Extra.)
Great Falls Players
The Great Falls Players (gfonline.org), who also perform at the Alden Theatre and have also been told to sell more tickets or face difficulty getting stage time, apparently believe that what has worked well in the past for everyone else will work well for them. Their season opener in January is one of the most frequently performed comedies locally the past few seasons, the 1930s chestnut "You Can't Take It With You." It's been staged about a dozen times in the area recently. They'll follow that in May with the 1960s Broadway hit, "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off."
Vienna Theatre Company
The Vienna Theatre Company (www.potomacstages.com/Vienna.htm) also loves oldies-but-goodies, but it likes lesser-known shows, too. The company opens its season Oct. 14 with an often-staged suspense thriller, "Deathtrap" (which will be reviewed Oct. 20 in Fairfax Extra), followed in January by "Enchanted April," based on Elizabeth Von Arnim's novel about four English women on a holiday in romantic Italy. Then it's back to familiar fare in April for the umpteenth local production of the musical "1776," which, luckily for Vienna Theatre, can still stir one's patriotic emotions.
The Springfield Community Theatre (www.sctonline.org) has not been heard from for some time, but it's back and performing at one of its former homes, Immanuel United Methodist Church in Annandale. It is starting slowly Oct. 14 with the oft-seen "The Lion in Winter" and then warming up in March with the comedy "Luv," in which a hapless husband tries to get his wife interested in another man so he can marry his mistress. The troupe will also stage a reading of A.R. Gurney's "Ancestral Voices," about a family's history, over several nights in April.
The GMU Players (www.gmu.edu/org/gmuplayers) are a unique theatrical hybrid, a company combining GMU students with professional directors and designers and often presenting demanding works. But you have to move quickly or you'll miss some of their shows. The Players have a number of productions limited to just a few performances this season but will also present "Uncle Vanya," perhaps the play most familiar to Americans from Anton Chekhov, the great genius of the Russian theater, beginning Oct. 20 and running for two weeks. In February, they have scheduled James Joyce's "The Dead," to be followed in April by "The Trojan Women," both of which will run for 10 days.
Aldersgate Church Community Theatre
That leaves Aldersgate Church Community Theatre (www.potomacstages.com/Aldersgate.htm) in the Alexandria section of Fairfax, a troupe that specializes in comfortable, familiar plays and musicals, especially those that have been produced by other local groups in the recent past. Their season features two classic plays and a classic musical, all of which have been before local audiences the previous season. Aldersgate opens with the weak stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes thriller, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" Oct. 14, followed by "The Man Who Came to Dinner" in March and "Oklahoma!" in June.
The C.A.S.T in McLean theater company (www.castinmclean.org), which produces a summer musical at the Alden Theatre, has not announced its pick for 2006.
For more information about community theaters in Fairfax, go to www.washingtonpost.com and click on "Entertainment Guide," then on "Theater," and choose Fairfax County under "Neighborhood."