Ian Allen is adamant: Cherry Red Productions is not dead.
And Allen knows death when he steps in it. Since 1995, the high-energy, low-comedy theater company he co-founded has staged 112 variously gruesome demisesand that number “does not include staged readings, near-fatal woundings, imagined deaths, spiritual deaths, the undead, the unborn, or animals,” according to Cherry Red lore. Nor does it convey the company’s full range of thematic enthusiasms, which also include sex, drugs, and bodily fluids.
So when Allen says, “I don’t want to be quoted that we’re done, we’re finished, we’re over with,” you wanna believe him. Fact is, though, that Cherry Red’s “ninth slutty season” looks to be its last.
The company’s debatable demise will comeafter 31 full productions and nearly as many one-night eventswith a staging of David and Amy Sedaris’ The Book of Liz, opening in June. Around then, Allen says, the faithful can expect some sort of farewell show featuring highlights from old Cherry Red favorites. After that, however, the company banner will be retired except for one-off events such as Day-Old Plays, the group’s yearly 24-hour play-creation marathon.
Why is it that D.C. theater is about to becomesighmore tasteful? Allen refuses to attribute any part of the decision to malaise. He bristles at the very mention of the word, in fact: The smut-theater racket is still plenty of fun, he says, and he laughs recounting favorite Cherry Red momentsincluding the time an actor hosed down Washington Post reviewer William Triplett during an extended onstage “piss” in Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack.
Nor was the decision a financial one, Allen says. Cherry Red receives less than 1 percent of its incomea startlingly low proportion in the theater worldfrom donations. The rest comes from ticket sales, and shows always break even, according to Allen.
Attendance did suffer after Metro Cafe was shuttered last year, forcing the company out of its longtime home and into the Warehouse Next Door and then the Source Theatre. But “once we saw that trend, we stopped spending so much,” Allen says. And audience numbers, he says, have since rebounded.
The decision to fold, which was tentatively made over the summer and finalized recently, had everything to do with a desire among Cherry Red producers and performers to open up their schedules for different projects. Co-founder Chris Griffin, better known to Cherry Red audiences as the statuesque Lucrezia Blozia, has literally moved onto New York, where he/she currently features in an ’80s gag band called Eva Brontosaurus. Lucas Zarwell will be devoting more of his time to his Lobster Boy Revue (based on a character first presented in a Cherry Red show). And Allen himself is working on three new plays, including an adaptation of Robert Gover’s One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding and a play inspired by a kitschy 1922 British silent film called Trapped by the Mormons.
So something’s got to give. “This is hard for me to put a positive spin on, because we’re stopping something as opposed to starting something,” Allen says. “Me personally, I’ll miss it like crazy, the constantness of it.”
Still, “this is our ninth year, and I am 30. I have literally been doing this for one-third of my life.” Mike DeBonis