None of them know quite what they are getting into. Nearly all of the three dozen or so actors, writers, and directors walking into the Source Theatre are clutching odd bits of clothing and potential props, including a kite, a riding crop, and two loaves of Sunbeam bread. The writers and directors mostly keep to themselves, but many of the actors greet each other like long-lost relatives. One woman offers, to no one in particular, her own version of “Maria” from West Side Story (“Medea…I just met a girl named Medea…”). But Ian Allen puts a stop to the revelry. Sporting a shirt that reads, “Fuck you you fucking fuck,” Allen, the artistic director of Cherry Red Productions, braces everyone for the coming 24 hours.
It’s 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3. At midnight, the actors and directors will go home, but six writers will remain, holed up in cubicles upstairs. Each must write a 10-minute play based on a random assortment of props and for a cast assigned to him or her via a stack of Polaroids. At 9 a.m. Saturday, the directors will return to get their first crack at the scripts. At 10, the actors will arrive and rehearsals will begin. At 7, the actors will leave to memorize their lines before the show kicks off, at 11 p.m.
“Write to the mind through the body,” Allen tells the playwrights before they head upstairs. “Gross [the audience] out. Make them fear for their lives.”
No one expects Tennessee Williamscertainly not in 24 hours and not from a production orchestrated by Cherry Red, the small theater company that, over seven seasons, has built a following by terrorizing, titillating, and turning the stomachs of theatergoers. “Day-Old Plays” was organized as part of the Source’s Washington Theatre Festival, which runs to Aug. 26.
By 10:30 the next morning, actors are crammed into dressing rooms and hallways to rehearse. The plays’ subjects include time in the confessional box with Father Karras of The Exorcist, two murderous women who claim to have found the remains of Chandra Levy, a gay man’s evening with his fatally twisted family, a motivational speaker who advocates incest, and the demise of a small town at the hand of a pack of rabid beavers.
In the lobby, six actors and a director are reading over a missing page from the script for Vigilante Islanda minisatire of the reality-TV show Survivorthat has just been delivered to them.
“That’s where the dildo part is,” says one actor.
Another actor squints at the page. “There’s a dildo?”
Another cast member sighs: “I bet they’re all gone by now.”
By late afternoon, the actors look worn out from nonstop rehearsing. At 10:30 p.m., as they assemble upstairs, dressed in the required black, many are still going over their lines.
The show opens a half-hour late to a sold-out audience. The dialogue in many of the plays has been punched up with crotch-grabbing, fart noises, nudity, and dry humping. Lines such as “There’s a sharpened, superheated, knife-studded, acid-drenched rectal thermometer with her name on it,” become “I have a rectal thermometer for her.” But it’s all the same to the audience, which rewards the efforts with big laughs. Annys Shin