There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
A body of water features prominently in the script of Lilies, and a body of water supposedly featured prominently in Jeffrey Johnson’s production for the Actors’ Theatre of Washingtonuntil shortly before opening night. Apparently, the pool that described the playing area of Giorgos Tsappas’ otherwise hard-edged modular set didn’t respect the preview audience’s boundariesand their toes, along with the Source Theater space, suffered a little inundation. Director Jeffrey Johnson still manages to present striking stage pictures, though: His Plan B includes the scattering of bright October leaves at the feet of an aged prelate (Joshua Drew)it’s the autumn of his days, get it?whose boyhood turns out to have been intimately intertwined with that of the lifer he’s come to visit in a Quebecois prison (Maxwell Hessman’s Simon Doucet). The convict and his cohorts cage the clergyman in and force him to watch as they re-enact the events that led up to Simon’s long-ago convictiona conviction, it turns out, as dirty as the priest’s conscience. The structural device may be a trifle too meta for many audiences: Not content with its echo of Hamlet’s play’s-the-thing sequence, Lilies becomes a kind of passion play within a passion play, with actors playing convicts playing adolescents playing various parts in their school’s staging of the Passion of St. Sebastian. Unsurprisingly, two of the boys fall passionately in love with each other, and troublestheirs being a heavily French Catholic province, circa 1952ensue. Michel Marc Bouchard’s ’80s-earnest script is absurdly purple in its framing of the tragic-homo-victims story, but the production makes no apologies for its tone. Instead, it parades its excesses in satisfyingly operatic style. The Actors’ Theatre cast, like most large ensembles assembled by small companies, includes a number of less-than-polished performersmost regrettably Gus Demos, who proffers an unconvincing sort of torment in the prominent role of young Simon. But it features a reasonably solid coreand two strong principals in Patrick O’Neill (as Simon’s teen-noble lover, Vallier) and Brian McMonagle, who plays Vallier’s distracted mother with an unerring instinct for where the character stops being funny and starts being heartbreaking. O’Neill, meanwhile, proves in his pivotal part what his lead performance in last year’s Bat Boy: The Musical suggested: that he’s a talented young actor who could become a formidable one. See Lilies, if only so you’ll be able to say you saw him when. Trey Graham