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“It’s like pilot season for theater.” —-Fiona Blackshaw
It is, kinda. The Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage new-play festival, which runs through Monday, partly serves up previews of stuff you’ll see on D.C.-area stages in the coming season. Signature Theatre, ferinstance, will be showcasing a new Underground Railroad musical by Nevermore composer Matt Conner.
But Page to Stage is also a kind of mini-Fringe, with local artists and companies trying out stuff that may never get another airing. It’s got a Fringe-y critical-mass vibe going on: Everywhere you look, there’s an actor or a director or a producer killing time, waiting to go on, or go in to watch a colleague’s staged reading, or go out for a bite with a friend who’s just finished a showcase.
And like Fringe, it’s the kind of place where things don’t always go as planned.
Forum Theatre and Dance, by way of example, scheduled a staged reading of a little comedy called The Adventures of Ali and Ali and the aXes of Evil. Then they discovered, once they got knee-deep into rehearsal, that a comedy written by a trio of smartasses named Yousseff and Chai and Verdecchia was a lot less funny when you put a couple of pale males in the leads. Less funny, in fact, than downright offensive.
So they scrapped Ali and Ali—-at least until they can find the right actors. And Forum’s 2 p.m. slot on the Page to Stage schedule was occupied by? Animal Remains, by New York-based writer Justin Tolley, a member of the Neo-futurists playwrights collective who studied at JMU with Forum’s Michael Dove. It’s a dark little story about three high-school friends still bound by the shared memory of a long-ago trauma. The actors got their first look at it yesterday—-and played it to an audience of about 85 this gray, rainy afternoon.
In one of the four o’clock slots, a sprawling history play about a gang of Nazi saboteurs (and the never-mind-the-habeas-corpus treatment they got from FDR’s government) drew an SRO crowd of 100 or so in the South Atrium Lobby upstairs. SCENA Theatre’s Robert McNamara, who scripted the heavy-on-the-contemporary-parallels drama from a true story, wasn’t on hand—-he’s apparently in Germany, whence he was e-mailing script updates as recently as yesterday. (From the beer garden, or so one cast member cracked afterward. Which might explain some of the circularity in some of those speeches.)
And another capacity bunch (hey, it’s all free, and the weather’s foul, but still: hooray for crowds) turned up for the 6 p.m. Millennium Stage showcase of a little item that’s already had a cabaret outing at Theater Alliance—and may turn up again in a full production at Metro Stage one season soon. D.C.-based actor/director/choreographer Michael Bobbitt has put together a revue of songs by Stephen Schwartz —-the shameless populist behind Wicked, Pippin, and Godspell. Local musical-theater heavies including Erin Driscoll and Eleasha Gamble belted candy-corn songs like “Defying Gravity” and “When You Believe;” Priscilla Cuellar put a torch to “Since I Gave My Heart Away,” from that excruciating Disney-ABC Geppetto starring Drew Carey. And everyone got a swat at cleverer stuff, including Working‘s “It’s an Art” (done as a competitive duet) and a mashup of Pippin‘s “Good Time Ladies Rag,” Godspell‘s “All for the Best.”
Bobbitt and collaborator John L. Cornelius (who did the arrangements for the Schwartz project) also previewed a new musical they’re working on: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings is based on William Brasher‘s novel about a star Negro League pitcher who gives the finger to his team’s owner and tours with his own barnstorming band of baseballers.
Schwartz, whose presence made the crowd go Oooooh and clap a lot, isn’t the only celeb who’ll be on hand for Page to Stage. If you’re going, keep your eyes peeled for Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally, who’s workshopping a play (about an SS officer, go figure) with Theater J; it goes up Monday at 2 p.m.