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Two lobsters discover themselves in a glass tank with rubber bands around their pinchers. While discussing the fleshy “claw” that removed them from the ocean, the shellfish conclude that it must have been a large, all-powerful crustacean—and that they were special to have been chosen. The lobsters’ musings are part of Michael Stang’s 10-minute play Lobster Tales, recently staged by the District’s new Spooky Action Theater company at the Universalist National Memorial Church on 16th Street NW. And their thoughts about universal connectedness fit neatly within the company’s mission.
“It’s the feeling that what I’ve seen exists in a kind of time continuum,” says Richard Henrich, the 57-year-old founder of Spooky Action. “Not just laughing at a good joke tonight, but something that takes me out of myself and makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger.”
Henrich’s own fleshy claw arrived in the form of a term coined by Albert Einstein: “Spooky action” describes the phenomenon of two particles whose actions mirror each other instantly, no matter how distant they are in space.
The playwright, actor, and director, who lives in Takoma, D.C., founded the company in 2004 at the urging of his wife. He had long lamented what he considered a lack of local theater that stayed with him long after the curtain fell. “My wife said to me, ‘Instead of complaining about it, why don’t you just go out and do it yourself?’” he laughs.
Henrich wanted the theater scene to offer more plays that require audiences to participate with their imaginations—for instance, visualizing scenery and costumes instead of having designers create a fixed environment. Lobster Tales, with its bare-bones staging, is the perfect opportunity for some creative visualization. Another play along these lines—one that inspired Henrich’s less-is-more philosophy—was Orson Welles’ Moby Dick Rehearsed, in which Henrich performed about a decade ago with Arlington’s American Century Theater. In it, the actors were told to perform Moby Dick off the cuff: They grabbed anything they could find onstage as props. Benches became a rowboat, and the audience bought into it, says Henrich. When the whale breached, he says, audience members drew back in their seats so they wouldn’t be splashed by water.
“That’s the power of the imagination,” says Henrich. “That’s the kind of audience participation I’m talking about.”
In addition to the one-time performance of Lobster Tales, Spooky Action’s inaugural season includes three shows: Save the Leopard by TJ Edwards, which closed in early November; a modern adaptation of Rameau’s Nephew by Denis Diderot, which opens for previews March 8; and an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland by Andre Gregory, which opens in May—for which Henrich envisions having audience members enter through a 3-foot-high door.
So far, funding for the company’s productions has depended on the generosity of Henrich’s friends and family, as well as various patrons.
“We’re working with limited means, and I’m working with actors who are often at the beginning of their careers, but I think I have a good eye for spotting people with talent,” says Henrich. “We’re off to a great start…and we’re here for the long haul.”—Hope Cristol