Alex Levy, the new artistic director of 1st Stage, figured he’d be spending the first few weeks at his Fairfax County theater fielding complaints about full-frontal male nudity. Much to his relief, he says, “Nothing has been further from the truth.”
Levy joined the staff of 1st Stage on Sept. 2, after moving with his wife and son from the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles to Alexandria. He’d been warned that he could be in for a shaky start and arrived during tech week for “Take Me Out,” Richard Greenberg’s somewhat risque 2002 play about a gay center fielder.
“It’s been an interesting and fun first show for us,” Levy said, sitting in the theater this week. “A lot of people around here weren’t sure how it was going to go over. They said I should get ready to spend the week taking complaint calls about naked men onstage.”
Instead, people are calling 1st Stage asking how to get from the Silver Line’s Spring Hill Metro station to the theater in Tysons Corner so they can see the show. The station is about a block away, assuming you take the correct (east) exit.
“People are definitely taking Metro, and they are coming from much farther away than usual. It’s really exciting,” he said.
A majority of the actors in the production are taking Metro, too. “That’s been a real blessing,” Levy said. “I’d heard stories about really complicated car-pooling and about [founding artistic director Mark Krikstan] giving people late-night rides.”
1st Stage opened in 2008 as the brainchild of three teachers who thought Fairfax County needed a theater where young thespians could grow artistically on their way to possible professional careers. When Krikstan stepped down, he said it was to help the company continue on its rise. Levy comes to 1st Stage with experience as both a freelance and artistic director. After earning an MFA in directing from UCLA in 2012, he split his time among three part-time gigs in New York and Los Angeles, and he says he’s ready to work full time in one city. Before moving to Los Angeles, Levy had a long association with Chicago’s Pegasus Players.
Being well-traveled may help Levy guide a theater that is programmatically all over the map. He worked with Krikstan to plan the 2014-2015 season, which includes two area premieres. Next up is the D.C.-area debut of Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors.” In the spring, Levy will direct Jon Marans’s two-person show “Old Wicked Songs,” and Michael Dove, artistic director of Forum Theatre in Silver Spring, will make a guest appearance as the director of John Patrick Shanley’s hit-play-turned-movie “Doubt.” The season concludes with the area premiere of Kathryn Grant’s family and courtroom drama, “The Good Counselor,” which Levy will also direct.
For now, though, he’s is hoping people will keep hopping on Metro to see “Take Me Out,” which runs through Oct. 12. Levy saw the play’s 2003 Tony-winning production. “Truthfully, I think ours is better,” he says.
Playwright Terrence McNally loves to mine the stage for drama. His revised comedy, “It’s Only a Play,” opens Oct. 9 on Broadway but is already looking like the fall’s best-selling show. As is common in McNally’s works, the characters are in the show-biz business: producers, playwrights, critics and directors. But theater isn’t McNally’s only muse: In 2010, the Kennedy Center produced a mini-festival of three McNally plays about opera: “Master Class,” “The Lisbon Traviata” and “Golden Age.”
Now, in what could be called a meta-meta twist, local chamber opera troupe UrbanArias is offering the Washington premiere of an opera about an actress that is based on a McNally play. “Three Decembers” opens Saturday at Artisphere in Rosslyn. Originally, the play was called “Some Christmas Letters.” It premiered at Carnegie Hall and starred Julie Harris as a classically trained actress making her debut in a commercial musical, much to the surprise of her adult children, played by Cherry Jones and Victor Garber. The occasion for the premiere was a 1999 holiday AIDS benefit, but it was never produced by a theater. Instead, librettist Gene Scheer got hold of the script and adapted it into an opera with music by composer Jake Heggie.
“This was an unusual circumstance,” Scheer said. “Based on the characters that Terrence wrote, I created story elements and wove the whole thing together, to give the piece a dramatic arc, and some surprises as well.”
McNally’s original structure was for the three characters to interact only by letters and phone calls, exchanged over three decades. The play ran for about 20 minutes, the opera extends to nearly 90. What Scheer hopes he and Heggie have kept intact is the emotional — but not sentimental — story about artists who wrestle with love, tragedy and AIDS.
“This is [McNally’s] world, but the beautiful thing about it is that it is not just about theater folks,” Scheer said. “Theater is a point of departure. Hopefully what it has become is a play about family.”
The Forum Theatre is taking home one of the nation’s top awards for emerging theater companies. Last week, the American Theatre Wing, the New York-based organization that doles out the Tony Awards, included the Silver Spring company among the 12 recipients of its National Theatre Company Grants. The 12 companies are based in seven states, including Michigan, California and North Dakota. To be eligible, troupes must have been established between five and 15 years ago, and have “articulated a distinctive mission.” Forum specializes in new and new-ish plays that are presented in a small, flexible black-box space.
Unlike many other national grants, which are often project-specific, the $12,000 gift may be used for general operating expenses. Washington’s Constellation Theatre was a recipient last year and is one of many theaters that have used the award as leverage to attract other grants and donors.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.