Last Friday, architect Friedrich St. Florian, a short, gray, and very serious man, stood in a studio at Atlantic Video downtown, gazing intently over his scale model of the Mall as a small camera flew over and around it. The studio’s seamless walls had been turned teal to simulate the sky; technicians were adjusting the steep sunlight on the model, trying to conjure a bright summer morning. Outside, however, it was cloudy and dampwhich seemed to suit St. Florian’s mood.
The Austrian-born architect was back in town from Providence, R.I., for two weeks to unveil his second proposal for the World War II Memorial on the Mallwith a new PR assault. He was with his patron, F. Haydn Williams of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), another somber fellow on a quasi-religious mission to build the memorial while surviving
veterans are still around. “A thousand of them die every day,” Williams said.
Both men are preparing for a reprise of last year’s nasty fight over the memorial. St. Florian’s original proposal, planned for a seven-acre site surrounding the Rainbow Pool next to 17th Street NW, proved a resounding failure, even though the scheme had won a star-studded design competition. He and the ABMC had wanted to build grandiose, 40-foot-high berms and gigantic colonnades on the north and south sides of the Mall’s hallowed open grounds. Sen. Robert Kerrey (D-Neb.), among others, heckled the idea mercilessly, hastening its demise. Both the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission rejected St. Florian’s design and sent him back to the drawing board.
The chastened architect, tentative as a spooked cat, explained his design, which is a radical reduction of the first: It is much more simple and picturesque, consisting of an elliptical plaza marked by simple ceremonial arches on the north and south. Gone are all the heavy symbolism and narrative bric-a-brac that imperiled St. Florian’s original scheme.
It seems St. Florian has also renovated his hard-fought convictions about the design. There was no love lost in deleting the big mounds and columns, he said: “I feel very good about it. In many ways, I think the new design is superior. It’s much closer to what I think a memorial should be.” The previous version, he intoned, was too literal, too crowd-pleasing. He thought this design was more appropriately “enigmatic.”
“Huh? What’s that?” asked Williams, knitting together his bushy brows.
“I mean powerful, but transparent,” St. Florian replied.
“Oh, yes,” Williams acknowledged, and went back to worrying over the model.Bradford McKee
It’s hard to shop a gay play around to D.C. theaters. Two local gay playwrights, however, have found a home with Emerald City Productions, which opens its In the Life Series gay theater festival this week. Steve Langley, a professional singer-songwriter, wrote the one-act Gone Fishin’ as part of a trilogy of African-American gay plays, Never Letting Go. The story involves a man stricken with grief and rage who rips apart the tangle of lies surrounding his former lover’s AIDS-related death. Paul Donnelly, who helps organize the Source Theatre’s educational programs, originally came up with his Oyster Stuffingabout a pair of sisters battling their mother and her lesbian lover on Thanksgiving dayfor a festival celebrating motherhood in 1992.
Langley has had readings before, but Gone Fishin’ is his first professionally mounted production. Donnelly’s work has played in venues around the city, including the Church Street Theater, where Emerald City’s festival runs for three weeks.
Donnelly’s work dwells on homosexuality and AIDS, which is difficult material for many local theaters to take. But he’s not begging for indulgences or changing his tune to suit audiences. “The subject chooses me,” he explains. “A character moves into my head and won’t move out until I write their story.”
Both playwrights credit Emerald City artistic director Terry Sidney for his willingness to nurture gay-themed theater in Washingtonthrough its festival, and also through the workshops and readings it presents year-round. “Other theaters may do gay plays, but they’re not gonna do but one every season or one every other season,” says Langley. “A nongay theater is not necessarily gonna take a chance on an unproduced playwright….And when something is very overtly sexual in nature, the question is: ‘Will Woolly Mammoth do it?’ Maybe it will, but will some of the larger theaters do it?’”Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Gone Fishin’ and Oyster Stuffingalong with Julia Willis’ Going Up and Sidney Morris’ The Wind Beneath My Wingsare part of Emerald City’s In The Life Series and run May 14th to June 7 at the Church Street Theater. For tickets and information, please call (202) 265-3748.