Above a funky strip of delis and furniture stores, on a stretch of 14th Street NW that's off the beaten cultural path, a couple of plucky, artistically proven companies are claiming another Washington neighborhood for theater.
Crestwood is the destination, and the two groups, Solas Nua and Pointless Theatre Co., are exploring the dramatic and drawing-power possibilities of a warehouselike location, Dance Loft on 14, on 14th Street NW, a mile northwest of the Petworth Metro station. Until now, the loft has been a home for dance, but with the shuttering of Flashpoint and the Mead Theatre Lab — lost in CulturalDC's sale of its Penn Quarter space to a developer — these worthy, itinerant troupes had to scour the city for alternative affordable accommodations.
The spirited imagists at Pointless arrive at Dance Loft in January with "Imogen," their new take on Shakespeare's storybook-like "Cymbeline," and then follow up in April with a fresh interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's century-old ballet "The Rite of Spring." Christening the space for theater, though, is the Irish-centric company, Solas Nua, offering up a technically polished if not entirely persuasive handling of Enda Walsh's "Misterman," a portrait of a diseased mind in a stifling Irish village.
The rawness of the loft is right for "Misterman," one of Walsh's twisted stories of personality disorder fueled by isolation and anguish. Solas Nua produced it once before, as it has other Walsh one-acts, such as "Bedbound," about an agitated furniture salesman who holds his disabled daughter prisoner in a tiny bedroom.
"Misterman" scampers about the consciousness of Thomas Magill, an inhabitant of one of those rugged, sparsely populated villages that seem impervious to change. Embodied here by the in-demand Washington actor Thomas Keegan, Magill is arguably the only personage in the 65-minute play. Why that's debatable is that in his shabby house reside the voices of relatives, friends and neighbors, on strategically placed cassette and reel-to-reel tape recorders — as well as in Magill's head. They vie for Magill's attention with the religious visions that preoccupy him in his solitude, a separation from reality exacerbated by the mistreatment he recounts, at the hands of his mother and other locals.
Some of the arduous demands of the role come naturally to Keegan: He masters the requirements of memorization, acrobatic dexterity, dialect and physical timing. But the tics possessed by the gallery of weird and brooding characters he must convey are a taller order. He easily conjures a sense of Magill's innocence, and yet this open-faced and vigorous actor is not able to surround himself as convincingly with demons. We have to believe Magill to be as broken and haunted as the place itself, a man who has metabolized suffering to a chilling degree. That facet of the play does not feel adequately served.
Rex Daugherty is credited as both director and choreographer, and in the realm of meticulously plotting out Magill's narrative, this "Misterman" is unassailable. On the scale of macabre fascination, though, the production still has a few dark steps to climb.
Misterman , by Enda Walsh. Directed and choreographed by Rex Daugherty. Set, Jimmy Stubbs; lighting, Marianne Meadows; sound, Neil McFadden; props, Patrick Kavanagh. With the voices of Nanna Ingvarsson, Brian Hemmingsen, Madeleine Carr, Stephanie Mokey, Kiernan McGowan, Amanda Forstrom, Zoe Evers. About 65 minutes. $35-$45. Through Dec. 9 at Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th St. NW. Visit SolasNua.org.