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Last month, D.C.’s Studio Theatre staged what was supposed to be, according to a press release, “THE U.S. PREMIERE OF WORLD-RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT BRIAN FRIEL’S ROMANTIC GEM, AFTERPLAY.”
The production, directed by Studio’s founding Artistic Director Joy Zinoman and funded through a $50,000 grant from the local Jovid Foundation, has been a particular source of pride for the nonprofit theater company—which nabbed dibs on the play’s U.S. debut in an exclusive licensing deal with the author.
“With this United States premiere,” the company announced in January, “Washington audiences get a rare first look at the play that [London’s Daily Mail] called ‘a musical duet of the highest order, imbued with Chekhov but acquiring a poetic life of its own.’”
A duet, it turns out, that Studio had to sing with another company—and that audiences in another part of the country actually got to see first.
Two weeks before the D.C. production’s March 9 opening, in fact, Afterplay was performed in rural Cambridge, N.Y., by the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall—a production that Lenox, Mass.– based online arts magazine Newberkshire.com called “a sensitive and nuanced performance.”
The sensitivity, however, was lost on the staff at Studio. “We were flabbergasted,” says Morey B. Epstein, the company’s executive director of institutional development. “No one else could be given the rights until after our production, according to the agreement.”
Ah, but obtaining the rights, it seems, didn’t really matter much to the folks at Hubbard Hall. “We tried to get the rights,” says Kevin McGuire, the company’s artistic director. “No one returned our calls.”
So the troupe went ahead and performed Afterplay anyway—“without authorization,” as Friel’s reps at the William Morris Agency pointed out in a stern April 4 letter to McGuire.
McGuire characterizes the unapproved staging as “a nonevent.” “Less than 200 people actually saw the production,” he says. “The actors were not paid.”
But it’s a big deal to William Morris. “The production of the Play without the Playwright’s permission was a violation of his rights,” the agency notes in its letter, which further warns that, according to U.S. law, “an infringer of a copyrighted work can be held liable for statutory damages of up to $30,000.”
Oh, and another thing: “What makes your company’s production even more distressing,” the letter adds, “is that it has diminished the prestige to which the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., was rightly entitled….The loss of the prestige and publicity associated with the initial production of a new play by a major playwright cannot be calculated in dollars and cents.”
But box-office receipts sure can. And to judge by ticket sales, Studio’s production hasn’t been too diminished by the loss of prestige. Afterplay has sold so many tickets, in fact, that Epstein says the company decided to extend its run an extra week. The final performance is currently slated for April 24.
William Morris, though, thinks that Studio should get more. The agency has demanded that Hubbard Hall “write a letter of apology…as well as make a substantive donation to the Studio Theatre.”
“We’re going to do what they suggested,” says McGuire—at least as far as writing an apologetic letter is concerned. But making a donation? Not so much.
“We don’t have a substantive amount of money to give to anyone,” McGuire says. According to Hubbard Hall’s most recent nonprofit tax report, filed in 2003, the self-described “small company with big ambitions” has assets worth just $430,864.
That’s peanuts compared with the Studio Theatre’s own reported assets, which total more than $14 million. Says Epstein: “I don’t think we’re looking to [Hubbard Hall] for anything.”
•Even the Phillips Collection isn’t above a little shameless baseball-related self-promotion: “To help celebrate the return of baseball to Washington,” the venerable Dupont Circle institution announced in a March 31 press release that it “has reinstalled the museum’s beloved Night Baseball.”
The approximately 24-inch-by-36-inch oil painting by collection founder Duncan Phillips’ wife, Marjorie Phillips, portrays a 1951 game between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees and captures, as the press release puts it, “the thrilling tension of the moment—the second before the pitcher releases the ball—with a dramatic backdrop of a blue-violet sky and bright green field.”
It’s the same thrilling blue-sky-and-green-field moment that the Phillips crew drags out nearly every year around this time. But this time, during the Washington Nationals’ inaugural season, people might actually have a good reason to come see it.
Or so the theory goes. Phillips spokesperson Mela Kirkpatrick says it’s “hard to tell” whether the baseball painting has actually had much of an impact on attendance.
The museum’s efforts to publicize the painting did earn a brief mention on a recent news broadcast by NBC’s WRC-TV. But Kirkpatrick reports that very few attendees have turned out sporting red W caps as a result.
The Phillips’ ongoing exhibition of nearly 100 works by early-20th-century painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani seems to be a bigger draw. “I think we would give that all the credit,” Kirkpatrick says.
•Now where will you not go to watch porn? Along with publicizing showings of director Pedro Almodóvar’s sexual-abuse drama Bad Education and the appropriately titled Cecil Howard skin flick The Last X-Rated Movie, Alexandria’s three-screen Foxchase Cinemas announced on March 31, “We have lost our lease and will close tonight. Thank you for your patronage over the last 33 years.”
It’s just the latest in a string of smaller D.C.-area movie houses that have been shuttered, including Visions Bar Noir and the Loews Cineplex Entertainment’s Inner Circle and Outer Circle theaters.
“They’re tearing the shopping center down,” says Foxchase owner Alan Rubin. “So that’s the end of it.”
But the Foxchase does not fade away without having made its mark on D.C. cinema history: According to Robert K. Headley’s Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C.: An Illustrated History of Parlors, Palaces and Multiplexes in the Metropolitan Area, 1894– 1997, the theater ran director Radley Metzger’s plot-laden porno-comedy The Opening of Misty Beethoven for more than 103 weeks in 1977 and 1978.
The Foxchase’s fixation on the film, in fact, “entered its seventh consecutive year in 1983,” the book notes. A search of the Washington Post’s archives reveals that Misty ran again, “back by popular demand,” as late as April 1985. “A lot of theaters had The Rocky Horror Picture Show for, you know, 10 years or whatever,” says Rubin. “But I’m sure it was the longest-running X-rated film ever.”
Visions’ year-plus Donnie Darko marathon simply pales in comparison. “Small change,” says Rubin.
•Now annoy all those around you with civic pride: BlingTones, the self-described “world’s first wireless record label,” is offering its new D.C.-themed ring tone for your mobile phone.
Priced from $1.99 to $2.99, depending on your cell-service carrier, “[e]ach ‘Rep Your Hood’ ringtone is an exclusive, original mini-song featuring the name of the hood, and the lingo, all expertly mixed and scratched by DJ J. Period,” according to a press release.
“They all have their own flava,” says Jonathan Dworkin, vice president for A&R at the New York– based company.
Some hoods, though, are better represented than others: Though many of the company’s geographically distinct minisongs include such catchy descriptors as “Money Makin’ Manhattan” and “Hotlanta,” the District’s own ringtone is laced with the lackluster lyric “D.C./Let’s go!”
What, no “Chocolate City”? No “bustin’ loose”? No “numb to the max”? And how can you truly “represent” D.C. without “Taxation Without Representation”?
Perhaps the problem is that BlingTones lacks a little D.C. representation in the A&R department—which includes such notable contributors as New York native Q-Tip and the Barbados-born Doug E. Fresh.
“I don’t know if I have any D.C. producers right now,” Dworkin admits. “Y’all got the hardcore thing and the go-go thing.”
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