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Keegan Theatre - ARCHIVE
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False Romance: An Intergalactic Farce
August 27 - 29, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm
Reviewed August 27 by Brad Hathaway

Premiere of a  contemporary one act sci-fi comedy
Running time 1:30 - no intermission
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run
Tickets $15


Keegan's New Island Project wraps up its three-week/three-play mini festival of one-act plays with an extended version of a piece that Joe Baker conceived in this year's Play-In-A-Day festival in Bethesda. He apparently enjoyed doing the quick version that day last February, so he tried to keep the fun going by expanding the piece into a lengthy one-act. A cast of four joins in with the author adding himself as an uncredited fifth performer for a brief opening video cameo. The evening also brings the Keegan saga full circle before its big shift in November when it becomes the full time theater company in residence at the Church Street Theatre in Washington. Twelve years ago, Keegan offered its first production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and a very young Joe Baker was one of the "no neck monsters" of Tennessee Williams' creation. Now it is a play by that same Joe Baker that is the last offering of Keegan in theater-friendly Arlington County which has been so nurturing for this theater with a strong sense of Irish roots.

Storyline: An alien couple visits Earth to check out its inhabitants only to run into another alien couple who are also on Earth with a similar mission. Not recognizing each other as aliens, they follow their intergalactic protocols for contact with another species. The effort to determine if the inhabitants may be useful in repopulating their own world introduces farcical complications.

Farce is a highly refined form of comedy with its own well established rules of broad humor, plot complications and physical comedy. Baker follows the basic rules of the form in constructing this piece although the gag at the center of confusion - the mistaken identification of aliens as humans - is a bit too thin for a full act. At least it is thin in the hands of an author who doesn't find quite enough twists and turns to fill the time. Baker adds a touch of technology to help out, using a video system to screen place-establishing scenes as well as puppets of the alien's superiors back where they came from.

John Robert Keena is the most alien of the aliens - in the way that Robin Williams was alien-ish on television's Mork and Mindy. His physical comedy is distinctive, particularly the acrobatic roll-and-rise movement that has him springing to his feet as if the force of earth's gravity is very different from what he is used to. Elizabeth Jernigan matches his lightness of movement and adds a vocal springiness as well. Evan Crump, with a Donald Duck hat worn with the bill at the back, and Ella Markey complete the quartet of confused human-seeking aliens.

The video allows Baker himself to appear in a prologue, looking for all the world like Conan O'Brien in his green flashlight look into the future routine. The video puppets, which are uncredited, are featured in a split-screen effect as well. On opening night the video apparently malfunctioned a few times but Jernigan covered very nicely when she asked another character what he thought of a photo that was supposed to be displayed but wasn't ... "what would you think of this picture if this picture was there?" Somehow, it seemed a perfect match for the silliness that pervaded the evening.

Written and directed by Joe Baker. Design: Shadia Hafiz (costumes) Hannah Dubrow (lights) Bethany Galyen (sound) Rebecca Chasin (photography) Kirsten Parker (stage manager). Cast: Evan Crump, Ella Markey, John Robert Keena, Elizabeth Jernigan.

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Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
August 20 - 22, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm
Reviewed August 20 by Brad Hathaway

Premiere of a  contemporary one act/one couple story
Running time 1:40 - no intermission
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run
Tickets $15

What is turning out to be a sort of farewell engagement for Keegan Theatre and its New Island Project in the theater-friendly Arlington County is a three show mini-festival of one act plays, one presented each weekend over a three week period. With the announcement that Keegan will be the full time theater company in residence at the Church Street Theater in DC starting this fall, these three one-acts become the last offering of Keegan at the Theatre on the Run. The mini-festival started with A. R. Gurney's Love Letters last weekend, and offers Megan Thrift's boy-meets-bartender romance/drama this weekend. Next up will be Joe Baker's False Romance: An Intergalactic Farce. For this weekend, a cast of five under director Phil Dallmann is working their way through Thrift's sometimes stilted dialogue, but it is the central pair that are front and center with Peter Finnegan giving a bit of a demonstration of how to make the dialogue flow with a natural air and Ashley Faye Dillard doing her best to try to match it. That she doesn't always succeed doesn't keep the piece from winning you over by mid-course.

Storyline: With the bar she inherited when her mother died failing to draw enough business to keep running, a young woman serves up a few brews and hospitality as one young man facing the same view of a dead end future becomes a last customer of the night.

Keegan company member Megan Thrift takes a crack at the time-honored genre of "people-chatting-at-a-bar" in which strangers create increasingly detailed portraits of themselves in snippets with this tale of two young adults facing their futures with trepidation while revealing their pasts tiny clue by small confession. She throws in a pair of regular customers tipping one last brew back before heading home and an inebriated visitor before last call, but this is essentially a two person play, and Finnegan and Dillard make enough of a chemical connection to be both believable as people attracted to each other and attractive as a couple the audience can be interested in for a full, if short, evening.

While Finnegan's performance is the pleasure of the evening and Dillard has her moments to shine (she does a really nice job on the "come dance with me" portion of the evening) the supporting cast has a wider range of effectiveness. Jim Epstein sets a bright and strong pace with the opening lines as one of the bar's regulars while Jonathan Marget goes a bit overboard in his effort to be a deadpan man of few words. Later, Michael Deveney goes from a happy drunk to a comatose one. Strangely, all five spend the evening at the bar drinking the same brand of beer. 

A discussion in a bar play can be staged with a highly detailed set or just a bar and table with a few chairs and stools. The latter is the case here. Thrift doesn't place great requirements for set design but she does present a real challenge to a sound designer as a radio and the songs that come through it are a factor in the play. How to have the music from the radio realistically playing through the conversation only to create interruptions for specific plot points (such as Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" coming just as the origin of the bartender's name is a part of the conversation)? It is a challenge that Bethany Galyen comes close to meeting but she's significantly hampered by the lack of a sound system that can be manipulated with any subtlety.

Written by Megan Thrift. Directed by Phil Dallmann. Design: Shadia Hafiz (costumes) Hannah Dubrow (lights) Bethany Galyen (sound) Rebecca Chasin (photography) Kirsten Parker (stage manager). Cast: Michael Deveney, Ashley Faye Dillard, Jim Epstein, Peter Finnegan, Jonathan Marget.

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June 3 - 28, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 3 pm
Monday, June 15 at 8 pm
Reviewed June 11 by Brad Hathaway

An intriguing concept with a number of serious points
Running time 2:10 - one intermission
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run
Tickets $20 - $25
Click here to buy the script

Keegan Theatre has found an intriguing new play by John Strand which takes place in the Nation's Capitol. It feels like it belongs here in the Potomac Region, although many of its themes and lessons are applicable to the nation as a whole. Strand builds on a flight of fancy in which a psychiatric outpatient lapses into the persona of Abraham Lincoln when he goes off his meds. Strand plays with the consequences of the concept in order to explore multiple issues including brotherly love and the conflict between altruism and cynical opportunism in government service. Along the way, he challenges the idea that - to use on old song lyric - "It ain't what you say, its the way that you say it." He comes down on the other side of the question, however, demonstrating that it is the ideas contained in a speech and not just the sound bites that make the difference.

Storyline: A Capitol Hill staffer's life is doubly stressed. For one thing, the new chief of staff in his office is floundering as their boss's prospects for reelection - and, thus, their prospects for continued employment - tank  For another, his brother, who is  dependent on him because of a psychiatric condition, is going deeper and deeper into a fixation that he is, in fact, Abraham Lincoln. The two problems coalesce when his brother supplies Lincolnesque texts for the boss's speeches.

When John Strand comes up with a concept for a play he sinks his teeth into it with relish. Potomac Region audiences have known this since the early 1990s when Signature made a few waves with his Otabenga. He put Alfred de Musset's 1833-34 work of "Armchair Theatre," Lorenzaccio, on stage at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and his Lovers and Executioners earned the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play when it premiered at Arena Stage. He explored the compulsion for self expression in the drama The Diaries, the off-beat comedy Three Nights in Tehran and the musical The Highest Yellow at Signature. He didn't reveal this politically themed play here, however. Lincolnesque had its premiere in San Diego where Joe Calarco directed it at the Old Globe. Now Mark A. Rhea takes up the piece and gives it an absorbing presentation in the small space of Theatre on the Run just across the foot bridge over Four Mile Run from the shopping and dining village of Shirlington. The script does include a few gaffes which local politically active audiences might be expected to notice that would perhaps have gone undetected a few thousand miles from the Capitol (such as a reference to a vacancy in the House of Representatives being filled by gubernatorial appointment) but the essence of the piece benefits from the production's proximity to the seat of power.

The brothers at issue here are a slightly frumpy and frazzled Michael Innocenti as the stressed staffer and Peter Finnegan who actually displays a bit of Lincolnesqueness as the brother who carries the Great Emancipator's values into contemporary circumstances. Finnegan has a tendency to squint at times which makes his Brother/Lincoln appear to be peering into the future from the past. While Finnegan and Innocenti have characters who remain essentially unchanged by the events in the play, Susan Marie Rhea's Chief of Staff goes through a series of challenges that deepen her character. Her self-absorbed power player experiences a few self doubts along the way, giving her more depth even if she doesn't completely reform by the end of the play. Through it all, she's fascinating to watch. Stan Shulman handles a dual role of a homeless man the outpatient thinks is his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and an A-list kingmaker from K Street's influence factory.

The design credits are almost "costumes by Erin Nugent, everything else by Richard Montgomery." Nugent gives Shulman two different looks for his two different characters and puts Rhea in power garb befitting the ambitious chief of staff on the rise. Montgomery provides a collection of columns which stage hands move about to signify different locations and projects the image of Lincoln behind the action at specific moments when it seems most relevant. His use of music between scenes gives the piece a bit of an episodic feel which breaks the flow but his subtle reinforcement of the feel of public spaces with soft background sounds is quite effective.

Written by John Strand. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: Richard Montgomery (set, sound, projections, lights) Erin Nugent (costumes) Ray Gniewek (photography) Megan Thrift (stage manager). Cast: Peter Finnegan, Michael Innocenti, Susan Marie Rhea, Stan Shulman.

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Elizabeth Rex
March 19 - April 18, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 3 pm
Reviewed March 28 by Brad Hathaway

t A Potomac Stages Pick for an astonishingly solid blend of historical fiction and theatrical flare
Running time 2:45 - one intermission
Performances at the Church Street Playhouse

Tickets $25 - $30
Click here to buy the script

There are times when an author’s play, a director’s vision, a theater company’s aesthetic and a theater’s ambiance seem to come together in a seamless match. This is such a time. The script is a marvelous find, a piece of historical fiction - historical fantasy, really - that makes a "what if?" leap from simple fact to fascinating fiction by imagining the night when Queen Elizabeth I commanded William Shakespeare's company to perform for her in order to take her mind off the fact that, for reasons of state, she had to put her former (probably non-consummated) lover to death. The production under director Susan Marie Rhea brings the events to life with a sharp clarity, and many of the cast members contribute exceptionally strong characterizations that avoid caricature which is an ever-present danger when portraying such icons of history as this queen and this playwright. It all takes place on a set superbly designed to recreate time, place and the feel of the moment on the stage of a perfect venue for the package, the exposed brick and beam structure of the Church Street Playhouse, which looks as if it might well actually be the interior of a barn.

Storyline: After a command performance for Queen Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare's company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, gather in a barn for the night (actors weren't high on the social scale at the time) only to be visited by the Queen herself who needs continued distractions from the passing hours as the time approaches for the execution of the man who had been closest to her before he led a rebellion against her reign.

The production is another of those wonderful happenings that have resulted from the Canadian Embassy’s program of sending artists from our nation’s capitol to meet and share experiences with the Canadian theatre community. In 2006, The Keegan Theatre's Artistic Director Mark Rhea was one of those artists. While in Canada he discovered this script by Timothy Findley, a former actor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and author of both fiction and non fiction books, columns and plays. This, his last play before his death in 2002, debuted at the Stratford and received the Canadian Governor General's Award. It is a piece of pure fiction, making no effort to recreate an actual event, but, instead, using what little is known of the night before Lord Essex's execution as a foundation for an exploration of the historical characters, human emotions and the expectation of gender roles in a society with strict traditions. The contrast between a Queen in the then-traditionally male role of absolute monarch and the theatrical world where women weren't allowed on stage, resulting in actors who specialized in female roles is at the heart of the piece, and draws a most searing performance from Eric Lucas.

The two towering historical personages are given completely opposite but equally fascinating performances. Kerry Waters Lucas, as Queen Elizabeth, is as commanding as the Virgin Queen is reported to have been, and her passions and pains are extraordinary. Lucas gives us a very human Queen which is precisely what Findley's script requires. Contrasting her haughtiness with a confident humility and humor is Robert Leembruggen's Shakespeare, a master in full confidence regarding his craft. Together with Eric Lucas, they form a triple fulcrum around which supporting performances of note revolve. Chris Dinolfo, Jane Petkofsky and Jon Townson stand out amongst a large, very strong company. (William Aitken should also be given a nod for the not insignificant feat of portraying a bear without introducing comic bits at the wrong moments.)

Keegan, which began here at the Church Street with its initial production, has long benefited from the talent of designer George Lucas who seems capable of creating locations for their plays that serve the moment beautifully but also stick in the mind long after the final curtain. His designs for Translations in the basement of a church in Arlington, his two story set for The Hostage here on Church Street and even his French bar for Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Gunston Arts Center always seem to transform a space by taking its own ambiance as a starting point. Working in concert with lighting designer Dan Martin, he creates here an environment in which the cast, sporting the marvelous costumes of Kelly Peacock, bring a time and place to life.

Written by Timothy Findley. Directed by Susan Marie Rhea. Dialect coaching by Daniel Lyons. Design: George Lucas (set) Kelly Peacock (costumes) Kelly Peacock and Daniel Lyons (makeup) Carol Baker (properties) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography). Cast: Kevin Adams, William Aitken, Chris Dinolfo, Tiffany Gardner, Michael Innocenti, Elliott Kashner, John Robert Keena, Robert Leembruggen, Eric Lucas, Kerry Waters Lucas, Timothy Lynch, Trudi Olivetti, Jane E. Petkofsky, Kerri Rambow, Mark A. Rhea, Daniel Steinberg, Megan Thrift, Jon Townson.

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Krapp's Last Tape
February 19 - March 14, 2009
Thursday - Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm
Reviewed February 21 by
Brad Hathaway

An intense performance in Samuel Beckett's best known solo play
Running time 1:30 - no intermission
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run
Price: $20 - $25
Click here to buy the script

Krapp is a role that Brian Hemmingsen seems fated to play. Samuel Beckett's description of the character is not very specific as to physical type, but his text hints at a feast of emotional features - a little at a time. Therefore, it is the emotional type that is important here and Hemmingsen is capable of personifying the intensity of interior feeling and private thought that is the essence of Beckett's creation. He's also capable of holding the audience's attention without assistance for long periods of time. He puts all of these capabilities to full use, providing a theatrical experience that is fascinating and engrossing.  The props are few, the events minimal and the setting bare. All there is is Hemmingsen and his tapes. That's enough for an hour and a half. We've seen the play packaged with other short works by Beckett. Not here. Here it is all that is on the bill. Its better this way. All you need is ninety minutes of Hemmingsen's Krapp to feel you've had a full evening of theatre.

Storyline: Alone in the world, an old man who has had a habit of making a tape on each birthday as sort of a vocal diary, makes what may be one last tape. First he listens to one of his earlier tapes - the one from his thirty-ninth birthday.

Beckett wrote this play (in English) as a monologue piece for an Irish actor whose readings from literature had impressed him. It premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1958 paired with Beckett's Endgame, another one act play which he had written in French but translated into English. It is widely thought that Krapp's Last Tape is Beckett's most autobiographical piece, but as with most things Beckett, it is all in the allusions, hints and references, never clearly laid out. The contribution of director David Bryan Jackson is terribly difficult to quantify in a solo-show like this one. Who knows how much credit to give him for the fact that Hemmingsen stays on track all through the play, never seems to deviate from the flow that Beckett established, and highlights just the right aspects of humor in the situation? How much is Hemmingsen's own sense of the theatrical and how much is Jackson's imposition of discipline can't be judged from the seats during a performance. Of course, Jackson could not draw a performance of this quality from an actor who didn't bring the requisite skills and talent into the project in the first place. But someone - Hemmingsen or Jackson (or both) - has an instinct for just how far to push a particular bit, just how long to hold a pause and just how strong an emphasis to put on individual moments. It is the unerring sense for the outer limit that marks this performance.

Hemmingsen's ability to hold the audience's attention is particularly important in the opening minutes of the play. He hasn't a word to say for over twenty minutes and yet the audience is compelled to follow his every gesture, glance and grunt and then translate them into thoughts that have gone unverbalized. The play puts strong demands on the audience, demands made much easier to meet when the performance is as intense and captivating as this one. In a particularly impressive demonstration of the magnetic hold Hemmingsen has on the audience, everyone at the performance we attended remained hushed and nearly breathless as the lights oh-so-slowly faded to black at the end of Krapp's last tape.

The bare stage isn't as bare as it first seems. When you enter Theatre on the Run's black box space you are aware of the desk at which Hemmingsen sits but you focus immediately on him as he sits staring into the void. Only later might you notice that there is a portal behind him in the black-painted wall and that beyond the arched portal is another black-painted wall. The costume is as Beckett described in his script, right down to the scuffed white shoes which are the only remnants of his former status as a dandy. Wisely, the script's description of Krapp as "White face. Purple nose. Disordered grey hair. Unshaven" is honored in the hair and stubble but no effort was made to go beyond a lack of color in the face - no healthy tan but certainly ho hint of a clownish whiteface and colorful nose.

Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by David Bryan Jackson. Design: George Lucas (set) Kelly Peacock (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Dan Martin and David Bryan Jackson (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Katrina Wiskup (stage manager). Cast: Brian Hemmingsen.

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November 28 - December 21, 2008
Love, Peace and Robbery
Reviewed November 30 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:25 - no intermission
A Potomac Stages Pick for three strong performances in an intriguing, intimate piece
Performances at
Theatre on the Run

Keegan's New Island Project had its bow in New York last September when it presented this three-actor piece at the First Irish Festival in a 50-seat theater with the geographically specific name of 59E59 at 59 East 59th Street just northeast of Manhattan's theater district. Now the same cast performs the same piece in the Theatre on the Run set up with 50 seats. The experience for the audience is practically identical. Thus, this review is practically identical to the one we ran when the show opened in New York. Matthew Keenan is still the young man and Eric Lucas the somewhat more mature one, both just out of prison in Cork, and Bruce Rauscher is still everybody else. There was an excitement surrounding Keegan's first New York show. Here without the added stimulant of a New York debut, the show remains an interesting and intriguing piece, and the performances are every bit as polished and professionally accomplished. The price has gone up a bit from $18 to $25 with a $20 deal for students and seniors.

Storyline: Ten scenes track two men on probation in Cork as they struggle to adjust to post-prison life and resist the temptation to return to petty crime.

The play is by Liam Heylin, a playwright and journalist who works in the environment he portrays. When not turning out plays, he's a reporter covering the criminal and civil court scene in Cork for the Irish Examiner/Evening Echo. Clearly he knows whereof he writes. What is more, he has an ear for the jargon of his world. At least it seems that way to an ear uneducated in that peculiar vernacular. Accurate or not, the combination of lyricism and imagery has a clarity that, when delivered by these three performers, is easy to follow and appreciate. Kerry Waters Lucas has her cast pay particular attention to enunciation so that the Irishisms that might otherwise fall by the wayside both register and ring true.

In less accomplished hands, this pair of troubled men might come across as hopeless losers about whom it could be difficult to care. Instead, both Lucas and Keenan create distinctive characters out of the perceptive dialogue Heylin provides. The age span fuels the gap between them in maturity, and this provides a grading scale on which the audience can judge just how far each has to come in his effort to reach some level of adulthood in more than chronological terms. Lucas is clearly closer to escaping the self-destructive patterns of his youth, but he's not clear of them yet and he's still susceptible to the entreaties of the younger Keenan. Both are great fun to watch as they work through the quick scenes of this show, some of which last just a few minutes and are separated by snippets of music you might hear playing in the background in an Irish working man's pub, from Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison" to Bob Dylan's "The House of the Rising Sun" with a bit of Willie Nelson along the way.

Rauscher's part is listed in the program as "Cast of Thousands," and, in fact, he manages to be a wide range of characters from a teenager to a policeman to a mother to a puppy. His Wheaten Terrier puppy is actually one of the more intriguing characters that Heylin has imagined. As humans, Rauscher manages a range of traits and characteristics that bring each into focus rapidly to serve the needs of individual scenes without distracting too much attention from the central story of the evolution of the relationship between Lucas and Keenan. All three performances are carefully crafted to avoid excessive reliance on stereotypes.

Written by Liam Heylin. Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas. Design: Michael Innocenti (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: Matthew Keenan,  Eric Lucas, Bruce Rauscher.

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November 28 - December 20, 2008
Glengarry Glen Ross
Reviewed November 29 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:40 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a compassionate portrait of the victims of the pressures of an unconstrained economic system
Performances at
the Church Street Theater
Click here to buy the script

Seven years ago Keegan mounted a production of David Mamet's biting exploration of the pressures on the denizens of the sales culture. Then it was at the Clark Street Playhouse and some of the emotions bared on the stage of that large venue remain with this reviewer. When they announced that they would return to the piece with a new director for the company's annual tour of Ireland in 2007, I had dreams of hopping on a jet plane to see it. Unfortunately, I had to stick closer to home, so it is was with great pleasure that I learned that they were going to bring it to the Church Street Theatre in its new incarnation. Here it is directed by Jeremy Skidmore rather than Leslie A. Kobylinski, and Kevin Adams has replaced the incendiary Jim Jorgenson in the role that Robert Prosky originated on Broadway, but Mark A. Rhea returns in the other key role with even greater sensitivity than I remember him exhibiting in a less specifically developed role seven years ago. The result is a deeper reading of Mamet's play, with the characters' victimization made clearer, and their own pain as touching as that of the customers they victimize, in what Manet clearly sees as a unique form of trickle down economics that does as much damage to those who sell as to those who buy.

Storyline: The staff of a real estate office are overwhelmed with the competitiveness engendered by the commission and reward system used by management to maximize profit by pitting agent against agent not only for awards but for survival. One proposes burglarizing the office to obtain choice leads, but as the police investigate the crime, it becomes clear that breaking, entering and theft aren't the most despicable tactics used.

Mamet is known for his bitingly acerbic portraits of the dark side of American society. On the stage these include this 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner as well as Speed the Plow, which is currently in revival on Broadway, and American Buffalo, which had a brief revival on Broadway last month (it closed after only 8 performances). On film he has contributed such insightful screenplays as The Verdict as well as that for The Untouchables. His view of the world, or at least of the modern American society, may be a bit on the jaundiced side but he writes very deliverable dialogue within well crafted stories that are marked by an underlying affection for the raw and often un-loveable characters he creates.

Rhea and Adams both capture that affection in their portrayals of the central characters in this sordid story of corruption, weakness and greed. Neither is a man you actually "like." Both are rough, not only around the edges, but to the core. However, each is a product of the corrupt system in which he lives and works, sink or swim. Mamet lets you understand the pressures the sales system puts on them, and Rhea and Adams let you understand the human impact of those pressures. Rhea is the only hold-over from Kobylinski's 2001 production. Colin Smith makes a particularly impressive contribution as the stressed out manager through whom the pressure flows down to the sale staff.

Jacob Muehlhausen provides a set design that was probably dictated by the requirements of the Ireland tour, being flexible enough to work in a wide range of theater venues from Dublin to Galway but which is effective and efficient on the Church Street's stage. Essentially a wedge of  venetian blinds running from the floor to the ceiling railing of the set, the backdrop works nicely as the interior of a Chinese restaurant for the first act and of the real estate sales office for the second. Erin Nugent pays close attention to the peculiarities of each character in her costume design. 

Written by David Mamet. Directed by Jeremy Skidmore. Design: Jacob Muehlhausen (set) Erin Nugent (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Ryan Rumery (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Bill Aitken, Peter Finnegan, Michael Innocenti, Mark A. Rhea, Stan Shulman, Colin Smith.


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September 23 - 28, 2008
Love, Peace and Robbery
Reviewed September 24 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:25 - no intermission
Keegan's New York Debut
part of the 1st Irish Festival
Performances at 59E59 Theaters, New York City

Keegan is one of two Potomac Region theater troupes participating in a festival of Irish theater in New York. Solas Nua offered Disco Pigs at the beginning of the three week festival and now Keegan presents a play Potomac audiences will have the chance to catch in November and December. Of course, you can drive, fly or ride north this weekend to get an earlier look at Matthew Keenan as a young man and Eric Lucas as a somewhat more mature one, both just out of prison in Cork, and Bruce Rauscher as, well, everybody else. There is an excitement surrounding Keegan's first New York show. There will be performances in the tiny (50 seat) "Theater C" in the modern 59E59 complex of small theaters on East 59th Street in what used to be referred to as "Manhattan's Elegant East Side" on Friday at 8:30, Saturday at 2:30 and 8:30 and finally on Sunday at 3:30. Tickets in New York are $18.

Storyline: Ten scenes track two men on probation in Cork as they struggle to adjust to post-prison life and resist the temptation to return to petty crime.

The play is by Liam Heylin, a playwright and journalist who works in the environment he portrays. When not turning out plays, he's a reporter covering the criminal and civil court scene in Cork for the Irish Examiner/Evening Echo. Clearly he knows whereof he writes. What is more, he has an ear for the jargon of his world. At least, it seems that way to an ear uneducated in that peculiar vernacular. Accurate or not, the combination of lyricism and imagery has a clarity that, when delivered by these three performers, is easy to follow and appreciate. Kerry Waters Lucas has her cast pay particular attention to enunciation so that the Irishisms that might fall by the wayside in lesser hands both register and ring true.

In less accomplished hands, this pair of troubled men might come across as hopeless losers about whom it could be difficult to care. Instead, both Lucas and Keenan create distinctive characters out of the perceptive dialogue Heylin provides. The gap between them in age fuels the gap between them in maturity, and this provides a grading scale on which the audience can judge just how far each has to come in his effort to reach some level of adulthood other than chronological age. Lucas is clearly closer to escaping the self-destructive patterns of his youth, but he's not clear of them yet and he's still susceptible to the entreaties of the younger Keenan. Both are great fun to watch as they work through the quick scenes of this show, some of which last just a few minutes and are separated by snippets of music you might hear playing in the background in an Irish working man's pub, from Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison" to Bob Dylan's "The House of the Rising Sun" with a bit of Willie Nelson along the way.

Rauscher's part is listed in the program as "Cast of Thousands" and, in fact, he manages to be a wide range of characters from a teenager to a policeman to a mother to a puppy. His Wheaten Terrier puppy is actually one of the more intriguing characters that Heylin has imagined. As humans, Rauscher manages a range of traits and characteristics that bring each into focus rapidly to serve the needs of individual scenes without distracting too much attention from the central story of the evolution of the relationship between Lucas and Keenan. All three performances are carefully crafted to avoid excessive reliance on stereotypes.

Written by Liam Heylin. Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas. Design: Dan Martin (lights) George Lucas (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: Matthew Keenan,  Eric Lucas, Bruce Rauscher.

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July 31 - August 23, 2008
Stones in his Pockets
Reviewed August 9 by David Siegel

Running time 1:50 - one intermission
A 2-actor tidbit of tenderness performed effortlessly with an Irish lilt

Click here to buy the script

Two actors must morph themselves into 15 different roles with agility and self-confidence if Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets can have any expectation of reaching an audience’s heart. Uneasy acting will slay this trifle of a play since it does not have many memorable lines or a formidable new concept. In this case, thankfully, Kerry Waters Lucas has tightly directed this venture into a nicely polished nugget of modern day Irish storytelling, providing the audience with an engaging evening. The two actors, Eric Lucas and Matthew Keenan, deliver rewarding humor and bittersweet pathos with an Irish lilt in their voices to close the deal. Keenan and Lucas pull it off by keeping the audience reeling as they execute split-second character changes without new costumes or hefty lighting shifts on the mostly bare stage, with only their full longish hair and general several day-old bearded scruffiness as props. The two are able to almost flawlessly stop the momentum of one character and move smoothly and immediately into the next with few blackouts to assist as clear transition devices. This is an unpretentious work with good humor, few big laughs but with dramatic heft that works because of teamwork. There are certainly scenes in the several dozen over the course of the evening that play less true than others. At times, one can become lost over which of the 15 characters is before the audience, but so be it. Let’s not be too picky about such things. The overall arc of the play is clear. The road signs are there and the road is pretty straight. Stones in His Pocket is a satisfying evening’s entertainment.

Storyline: An American film company comes to a remote village in Ireland to film a big production about Irish life and needs the local townsfolk as extras. The effects on the local townspeople are profound; leaving some of them changed in their outlook on life and their desire to take charge of their own lives. Their experiences come to a climax when another villager commits suicide by drowning himself in a lake. It is clear that he intended to drown because he had filled his pockets with stones.

Playwright Marie Jones (born 1951) has extensive stage writing credits with work in radio and television as well. Stones in His Pockets was first produced in Ireland in 1996 by the DubbelJoint Theatre Company. It later went on to London. Stones received awards from the Irish Times and a Best Comedy award from the London Evening Standard as well as the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. It made its way to the Golden Theater in New York City in 2001 and received three Tony nominations, two for the actors and one for the director. Jones’s vision is clear in this unassuming, small scale venture. Director Kerry Waters Lucas skillfully  choreographed her two actors so that they appear as a smoothly working team throughout the production rather than just two people sharing a stage, saying lines and fighting for time in the spotlight. She has the actors working together like a pair of good ice skating partners spinning effortlessly together into a double Lutz; leaving few unnecessary marks on the ice. Finally, while the weighty despairing scenes easily could have sucked the life from this little piece, the director has her actors push through them with their energy constantly lifting this production until the end.

Lucas (Charlie Conlon) and Keenan (Jake Quinn) are an evenly matched pair. From the beginning, the two bound off each other playing a multitude of pretty distinctive characters. They throw themselves into Stones as if they are rescuing an actual real life Irish village and in the process they make the evening exciting. Lucas has the luxury of having the more flamboyant roles to play, including an American actress. With a flip of his hair, a swirling move of his arms and a point of his finger, he makes it seem as if he does not have an X chromosome in his body. In his main role as Conlon, an erstwhile local playwright, his own life’s journey is a bumpy one as he learns to take on his American tormentors and bullies. While of similar height, Lucas has a more substantial physical appearance when placed next to Keenan. Lucas moves about the small stage with some gravitas while his wide mouth and quick smile make him appealing no matter what role he is in. Keenan has the more beaten down characters to portray, including the drug addled man who commits suicide at the end of Act I.  This act turns the play from a tidbit comedy to a piece with substance. He can make his real life healthy body and arms look wizened as a drug addicted man, and then switch to a fey American assistant director for which he throws his hips, neck and voice into something entirely different. He also plays an old local townsman, who, in an alcoholic stupor, has truths to tell. Finally, he does a lovely turn into the individual who encourages Conlon to finish his play and blow off the opinion of the Americans that his play cannot be produced because it does not have a happy enough ending. Keenan, a bit slighter than Lucas, moves more like a cat; he stoops, he jaunts, and has a way of searching out with his eyes that are authentic and not stagy.

The Theatre on the Run playing space suits this 2 actor play. The always tight space has only black curtains, a couple of chairs, several pairs of shoes and a table, yet the pair of actors take the audience through a wide gamut of Irish villagers and American movie types. There are few chances for big technical theatrical work. Costumes are just every day scruffy dark pants, white shirts and vests. The several days old beard on each of the actors is invaluable to setting the right mood. There is some interesting pre-show music that portends things to come.

Written by Marie Jones. Directed by Kerry Waters Lucas.  Dan Martin (lights & effects), George and Gloria Lucas (inspiration for the selection of music), Ray Gniewek (photography) Rachel Heyd (stage manager). Cast: Matthew Keenan, Eric Lucas.

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May 15 - June 7, 2008
Closing Time
Reviewed May 17 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:50 - one intermission
A slice of a disappearing aspect of Irish life

Click here to buy the script

Talk about being up to date! Not only does the news that is droning along on the television set behind the bar at this Irish pub give the latest word on the Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton struggle, the topic of the play itself echoes an article from the  front page of the Washington Post of less than a month ago about the demise of Ireland's pubs in the wake of increasing prosperity in the Emerald Isle. In this instance, it is Belfast and the pub seems not to be the only thing hitting hard times. Owen McCafferty, whose Mojo Mickybo was such a success for Keegan last year, provides the text and Keegan the atmosphere, attitude and brogue that make it seem like you are watching real life play out. With a cast of actors that Potomac Region theatergoers have come to rely on for performances that are a pleasure to watch, performing co-directors Eric Lucas and Kerry Waters Lucas assemble a package that gets almost everything right, creating a diverting evening watching interesting characters having a somewhat less diverting day. That their lives have troubles is evident from the start - this is, after all, an Irish pub where troubles are the thing of endless conversations. But the details emerge slowly, as they would in real life and half the enjoyment is putting the clues together to follow the stories hinted at as well as the events played out.

Storyline: The pub in a small hotel in Belfast is losing money hand over fist, and the hotel itself isn't doing very well either. The owner clings to one last futile hope of keeping it afloat, even as he sees the end approaching. His wife, the one and only barmaid in the bar, would dearly like to escape the dreary place. Perhaps she could flee with the guy who seems parked at one end of the bar. But he's in a state of denial over his own problems. At the other end of the bar sits a somewhat less dissatisfied customer with his own views of life in Northern Ireland. Add a local handyman who has never recovered full use of his brain after being shot in the head during "the troubles," and you have plenty of things to talk about in the rich Irish voice of a gifted playwright.

As we saw last year with Mojo Mickyo, McCafferty, with his command of the everyday language among the Irish, is a playwright making a significant contribution to the supply of Irish slice of life plays that keep a number of small theater companies in our region stocked with quality material. Keegan once seemed the only company reliably dipping into that supply. Recently the field has expanded. Solas Nua has given us Mark O'Rowe's Howie the Rookie and Enda Walsh's Disco Pigs. Rep Stage took on Marie Jones' Stones in his Pockets. Quotidian did a lovely production of Conor McPherson's The Weir. But still, Keegan has the Irish roots going back the farthest, and with their "new island project" series of smaller, newer works, they keep the faith with this latest foray into the genre.

Bruce Rauscher and Ian LeValley are the first two people seen when the lights come up on George Lucas' detailed small pub set with just one table and about three stools at the bar. It is morning and both are passed out from the consumption of the night before. Soon they are joined by Eric Lucas as a sort of fixture in the establishment in the way George Wendt's "Norm" was a fixture on television's Cheers. Each actor is a delight to watch go through his paces. Kerri Waters Lucas adds her own marvelous way of making a thick brogue understandable. Playing against type is Mark A. Rhea, who has always seemed to do his best work with characters who have a surplus of macho swagger in their makeup (think Stanly Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire). Here he gives a touching and thoroughly convincing view of the stumbling, slow and slightly addled brain-damaged handyman.

One aspect of the production is neither up to date nor realistic, however. A factor in the reported decline in pubs in Ireland is believed, at least by its opponents, to be the ban on smoking in pubs throughout Ireland. That ban took effect last year in Northern Ireland where this play is set. Yet there's Eric Lucas puffing away as only he can do. Lucas has a great way with a cigarette, making the act of smoking seem as essential to his character as breathing, but there's no indication in the production that, when the TV blares news on Obama and Clinton, smokers in a Belfast pub face a fine of about a hundred US dollars for lighting up.

Written by Owen McCafferty. Directed by Eric Lucas and Kerry Waters Lucas. Design: George Lucas and Eric Lucas (set) Dan Martin (lights and sound) Kat Wiskup and Rachel Heyd (stage managers). Cast: Ian Le Valley, Eric Lucas, Kerry Waters Lucas, Bruce Rauscher, Mark A. Rhea and the voice of Matthew Keenan.

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April 18 - May 17, 2008
Reviewed April 20 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:10 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a history play that is both romantic
 and fascinating
 Performed in the Church Street Theatre.

Click here to buy the script

Sometimes "you've come a long way baby" implies both a compliment on progress and a snide remark about the past. It certainly isn't meant that way here. Keegan Theatre has come a long way from a sterling beginning, and this production - a revival of sorts - is dramatic proof of the fact. Keegan reaches back into its own early days when it first produced Brian Friel's history play of the days when the British attempt to purge Ireland of its own language and, thus, its own sense of self worth. In 1997 it staged the play in the basement of a church in Arlington, turning one corner of a recreation room into a  school held in a barn in rural nineteenth century County Donegal in the north of Ireland. George Lucas's set design for that limited space was remarkably successful. Now they have a large playing space on the Church Street stage, and Lucas has created a larger but no less remarkably successful set. The cast is not the same, but the impact of the production is. The play is one to loose yourself in for an excursion to another time and place where very real human concerns are explored. Again, it draws a superb production from Keegan and director Mark A. Rhea.

Storyline: In an Irish-speaking town in the north of Ireland in 1833, a unit of English military arrives on a mission to map all of Ireland, and, in the process, anglicize the Irish place names as part of the overall effort of the English government to force assimilation on the part of the Irish. Serving as a hired civilian translator is the son of the teacher in the local school where the locals gather to learn the three R's in their native language. The conflict of cultures is compounded by the attraction between a young lieutenant who speaks no Irish and a local young woman who speaks no English.

The play is a mature work by Friel, who first came to prominence with Philadelphia Here I Come in 1964, and turned out drama after drama of the Irish experience through the 1990s with such well known works as Molly Sweeney and Dancing at Lughnasa. In his portraits of Irish people he creates characters that are fleshed out, imperfect but understandable human beings who share a common cultural heritage and traits. In Translations, Friel pulls off the intriguing accomplishment of writing dialogue for both the English speakers and the Irish speakers in the English that the audience understands, and yet giving each character a distinct voice and making it clear to the audience which language is being used in any given speech, sentence or exclamation. The dialogue between Peter Finnegan as the young Lieutenant and Susan Marie Rhea as the girl who is so attracted to him is an affecting piece of writing as they try to communicate with each other in a halting, frustrated and even exasperated exchange which, nonetheless, manages to communicate their deepening attraction each to the other.

Friel gives each of the cast of ten characters distinct and interesting personalities, and Keegan's cast takes full advantage of the idiosyncrasies without overemphasizing them. Stan Shulman, as the local who may not know English but can quote the classics in the original Greek or Latin with ease, Kevin Adams, as the heavy drinking headmaster, and Colin Smith, as the young teacher who can't quite connect with the student he loves until it is too late create distinct and distinctive believable individuals. Jon Townson, as the headmaster's son who has returned from years on his own in Doublin, carries himself with the assurance that broadening experience would have given him. Finnegan's Lieutenant is notable for youthful idealism and romanticism while Susan Marie Rhea matches his romanticism but leavens the idealism with the accumulated effects of rural isolation and poverty. Director Mark A. Rhea blends the cast into an ensemble which feels very much like a community.

A note on an event at the performance reviewed: The Church Street Theatre can be an interesting place to be in a rainstorm. With its tin roof, the sound of a downpour reverberates through the space. Add thunder claps, and it can be difficult for an audience to hear what is said on stage ... that is, unless the cast adjusts their own volume and their enunciation to compensate. About half way through the first act of the Sunday, April 20 matinee, the heavens opened and the roar was impressive. What was more impressive was the reaction of Kevin Adams who happened to be making a speech at the time. He raised his volume without changing his dramatic demeanor. The rest of the cast followed his lead and, suddenly, the scene was as comprehensible as before the din began. Director Rhea, knowing that storms were predicted and remembering the night they had to stop the show for a similar downpour during Keegan's production of Side Man here, had alerted the cast to the possibility of a problem and asked that they "be aware and project." The adjustment was so smooth that it didn't interrupt the flow of the play - a tribute to the professionalism of the entire ensemble.

Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Kelly Peacock (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Megan Thrift (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Erin Buchanan, Peter Finnegan, Matthew Keenan, Daniel Lyons, Susan Marie Rhea, Samantha Sheahan, Stan Shulman, Colin Smith, Jon Townson.

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March 6 - April 5, 2008
Last Days of the Killone Players
Reviewed March 9 by David Siegel

Running time 1:45 minutes - one intermission
Something to chew on for a rainy night
Performances at Theater on the Run

To be a playwright and give an audience something new and worthy to chew on with rich dialogue, three dimensional characters and a sense of fluidity is not an easy goal. It is a pleasure to write that a wistful and melancholy little new piece has found its way to Arlington’s Theater on the Run. Written by Eric Lucas, directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski and produced for Keegan Theatre’s New Island Project, this is a work like a slow jazz fugue of horns and low piano notes with a sultry, throaty woman’s plaintive voice. She describes love gone wrong, but without hysterics. She just wants to tell you how she feels. Killon is somewhat slight. It is not trying to make big points. It is a grown-up piece about unhappy lives beaten down by uncontrollable change in a community, and the family secrets that finally break into the open and tear people apart. This is a piece for a cold rainy evening, when you can leave the theater and continue to savor the textures of the piece. There are certainly clichés, overly maudlin language, a dearth of physical action and a thrown in comic subplot or two to cover the main action. But with that, this is still something notable, a talk piece well suited to the limited space of Theater on the Run where audiences will listen to what is being spoken as the trajectory of the piece takes hold in the heart.

Storyline: In a dying town in the west of Ireland, an amateur theatre group comes together for the first read of their final production. As a developer threatens to devour everything in the town, including their beloved theatre space, the individuals begin to remember their pasts and soon enough the hidden from view takes over and leaves all of them torn asunder.

Lucas has written a script that arcs from a comic opening scene and then transforms itself to take the audience into a world of hurt. What starts as a piece of whimsy veers off into dark places as each of the characters speaks of sad underlying issues in their lives and that of the community. They find themselves under assault from outside developers. What begins as pressure to destroy and redevelop old buildings and farms slowly unravels families. Under the direction of Leslie Koyblinski, this is a piece that requires close attention, for it is all small gestures, facial expressions and voice modulations. There are no grand gestures. There are small moments throughout in which the well tuned cast shows naturalistic, real feelings.

Kerry Rambow is a natural for her role as the wife, mother and the only piece of femininity in this production. She plays with an understated sense of genuine caring until she is finally broken and leaves her husband in total despair. Bruce Rauscher’s detective is a man on a mission to find the truth. When he finds it, he decides to hide it rather than hurt the folk he comes to care for because his own life is one of hidden despair and loneliness. Rauscher delivers some haunting lines in several monologues. He is low key and generally believable. Gerald Browning, as the husband, moves from pompous, overbearing ass, to show himself to be a father so hurt by the actions of his son that he has no notion of how much he is responsible for his son’s outlook on life. That outlook has the son hateful, vengeful and, worse, cold to his parents. Kevin O’Reilly is one cold son-of-a-bitch for a son. He is stiff, and with little emotion, he delivers line upon line showing his hatred for everything that made him, his family, his neighbors, and his community. Jon Reynolds is the obligatory comic foil to keep the proceedings from falling into a multi-Kleenex venture. John Brennan is the sad middle-aged man who failed to reach out to the woman he loved for fear that he was not good enough for her, and does the same one other time in his life, so that only his sheep and his satellite TV keep him company.

This is very nice, small scale ensemble work, and the Theater on the Run black box space is appropriately used for the piece. The set is just a table and some chairs, with three panels behind to give a sense of the Irish countryside. The lighting carries the audience around from soft and bright, to well-accomplished spotlighted scenes.

Written by Eric Lucas. Directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski. Design: Terry Lucas (set) Kevin Lane (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Rose M. Kobylinski (stage manager). Cast: John Brennan, Gerry Browning, Kevin O'Reilly, Kerri Rambow, Bruce Rauscher, and Jon Reynolds.

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February 21 - March 30, 2008
The Hostage
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:40 - two intermissions
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a balanced blend of good time revelry and Irish theatricality
Performances in the Church Street Theatre.

 Click here to buy the script

After World War II, as the world caught its collective breath from the edge of the abyss, art as well as politics was undergoing reexamination and experimentation with change. Some of the changes stuck – some did not. At the time no one knew where music was going – Rock and Roll? Elvis? Progressive Jazz? Beatnick Word-Talk?  No one knew where politics was going – Cold War? Superpower hegemony? Anti-Imperialism? Local Determination? The age of uncertainty extended to theater where the rules of formal structure seemed at once reinforced and fractured. Irish new-wave writer Brendan Behan’s The Hostage is an example of the uncertainties of both the arts and the politics of its time. In 1958, The Hostage was as anti-establishment theater as it was anti-establishment politics. The Keegan Theatre, with its fascination for all things Irish, revived the piece in 2003, preserving all of its weaknesses as well as its strengths. They return to it now and find a somewhat better balance, drawing attention away from the weaknesses, and, at least in the first two acts, emphasizing the strengths

Storyline: In Dublin in 1958 a strange collection of under-class Irish folks live under one roof in this brothel/pub. There’s the pub-operator; the cheap whore and her customer, a Russian sailor; the homosexual whore and his customer, a cynical pianist, the former Irish Republican Army officer still blowing his pipes. The IRA has captured an English soldier and holds him hostage in this house, threatening to execute him if the English go through with their plan to execute an IRA prisoner.

Behan’s play is performed with two intermissions separating the three sections which aren’t exactly three acts. Behan’s effort to avoid the strictures of structure kept him from traditional labeling. The first section is essentially an extended introduction to the characters and their types with a great deal of attention to creating the atmosphere of the place. The second introduces the hostage, a young man who only slowly understands the peril he is in. The third carries the story, such as it is, to its conclusion. All of this takes place at a leisurely pace with little dramatic or comedic force to move it along during the first two and a half sections. The final confrontation seems to descend into confusion with just who is doing what to whom and why not clearly delineated by the staging.

The characters are all quirky and colorful and the ensemble that Keegan has assembled features strong performances highlighting the very oddity Behan envisioned. As it was in 2003, the strongest among them is David Jourdan as the song-singing leader of the pack who serves as sort of an anti-establishment master of ceremonies with a guitar, a bottle or three of stout and a ready song. This time out it is Joe Baker who plays the hostage, and he is appealingly innocent with a youthful charm that seems to capture the affection of the motley crew. His cockney accent stands in stark contrast with the Irish brogue of the rest of the cast. It should be noted that few of the accents are thick enough to keep the audience from understanding all of the dialogue.

Both David Jourdan's music and Melissa-Leigh Douglass' choreography have a natural feel to them. The dances just seem like the way these people would move to the rousing jigs and folk-sounding songs sung in many an Irish pub, and the use of authentic, often familiar melodies delivered with open honesty and camaraderie enhances the good time spirit. This, in turn, enhances the contrast between the mundane humanity of the regulars of the brothel and the bizarre officiousness of the IRA operatives. All of this takes place on a two-story set by George Lucas that feels perfectly at home in the distressed brick and wood interior of the Church Street Playhouse.

Written by Brendan Behan. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Music adaptation and music direction by David Jordan. Choreographed by Melissa-Leigh Douglass. Design: George Lucas (set) Carol Baker (set dressing) Shadia Hafiz (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Carolyn Agan, Joe Baker, Christina Coakley, Sally Cusenza, Shadia Hafiz, Sheri S. Herren, Jim Howard, Michael Innocenti, David Jourdan, Mike Kozemchak, Timothy Hayes Lynch, Rich Montgomery, Roger Payano, Jane E. Petkofsky, Susan Marie Rhea, Jennifer Richter, Colin Smith, Daniel Steinberg.

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November 15 - December 15, 2007
Alone It Stands
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:35 - one intermission
The US premiere of an Irish play detailing the phenomenon
 of a local rugby team's triumph 
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run
Price range $15 - $20

Keegan counts 62 roles in John Breen's dramatization of the victory of an Irish Rugby Team over New Zealand's. There are just six performers on stage. Pandemonium? No. Clarity! Eric and Kerry Waters Lucas direct the American premiere of this play in a flat-out romp of a physical production which maintains focus throughout what seems to amount to the two halves of a game the underdogs and their fans can't believe they are winning. Each of the six have to portray multiple characters - players on Munster's team, players on New Zealand's, family members, fans, commentators - you name it. Keeping things clear is a challenge, but it is a challenge well met.

Storyline: On October 31, 1978 the rugby club Munster, Ireland, defeated the world-class New Zealand "All Blacks" who had remained in Ireland for one last exhibition game after having defeated the best that the British Isles had to offer. In two acts, six actors portray the game and the events surrounding it for the members of the team, their families and their community.

Playwright John Breen was one of the people affected by the 1978 contest between his home town team and the titans from the other side of the world. He captures many facets of the impact of this event on the people he cares about. The play he wrote is a highly theatrical thing. As directed by the Lucases it is a series of special effects including slow motion, choreographed rugby scrums (those violent struggles over possession of the ball that mark rugby as one of the most strenuous contests of the football family) and exaggerated postures to create nearly instantaneous impressions of different locations and characters.

Co-director Eric Lucas also appears as "fourth actor" which means he is a child, a fan, a coach, a player, a family member and a spectator at different times. That is a typical list of characters for each of the cast of six and each gets the opportunity to make a strong impression in at least one character because the Lucases' blocking tends to draw the audience's attention to a single character at a time except for the big group effects such as a scrum or a break-away running play in the rugby game. Eric Humphries and Mandy Moore have characters that are the most distinctive - Moore, the pregnant wife of one of the players who goes into labor during the game, and Humphries a dog who sniffs and licks in a distinctly canine manner. All six, however, make the transitions from character to character swiftly and clearly.

The design team doesn't help the performers much, but that seems to be a choice by the Lucases rather than any sort of failure. Dan Martin doesn't have different lighting effects for scenes featuring Munster's team on the one hand and New Zealand's on the other. The lighting is simply sufficient to illuminate the playing space and provide some sense of change for the switch from one locale or time to another. Martin is also the designer of the soundscape which includes a clip of the theme from "Chariots of Fire" making a bit of a predictable point. An anachronistic distraction is the presence on stage of four modern plastic bottles of water which seem so twenty-first century for a play set in 1978.

Written by John Breen. Directed by Eric Lucas and Kerry Waters Lucas. Design: Dan Martin (lights and sound) with costumes provided by Matt Godek Rugby. Photography by Ray Gniewek. Cast: Gerald B. Browning, Joe Baker, Brandon Cater, Eric Humphries, Eric Lucas, Mandy Moore.

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June 1 - July 7, 2007
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:45 - one intermission
The musical re-telling of our nation’s creation
Co-presented with Runyonland Enterprises
Performances at the Church Street Theatre.

Click here to buy the CD

This show has a deeper impact when performed in the Potomac Region, where we live each day elbow to elbow with history. Here the arguments over the values for which this country was founded take on special meaning. Sherman Edwards, a song writing history teacher with little or no experience in musical theater, with the help of the inestimable Peter Stone (Titanic, The Will Rogers Follies), managed to make this history lesson one of the most entertaining, genuinely funny, romantic and passionate musicals. Under Mark Rhea, the Keegan company does a fully credible job of bringing these events to life and Robert Leembruggen makes the role of Benjamin Franklin fresh again. Add the fine voices of two women and you have a lot to enjoy. Patricia Tinder is a strong Abigail Adams stuck in Massachusetts, but ever present in the mind of John Adams. She pairs up with her real-life husband, Mick Tinder, who plays John Adams with a sharp sense of the frustration that eats at the man, and their duet on "Till Then" is a delight. Carolyn Agan, as Martha Jefferson, parries with great wit in chit chat with Adams and Franklin and sings the lilting "He Plays the Violin" with charm.  James Finley plays her husband with an unfortunate lack of passion except for the moment of their reunion kiss.

Storyline: In a hot and humid hall in "foul, filthy, fuming Philadelphia," the delegates of the 13 colonies debate everything from opening up a window to declaring independence. Central to the cause of separation are John Adams who is "obnoxious and disliked" but devoted to the cause, Benjamin Franklin, "a sage, a bit gouty in the leg" who understands the importance of crafting coalitions, and Thomas Jefferson who, at age 33, has "a remarkable felicity of expression." The audience knows what the outcome of the debate will be, but there is tension and drama aplenty along the way to the final vote.

The real magic of this piece is the way Stone and Edwards manage to communicate the complexity of the issues and avoid making simplistic cartoons out of the majority of the characters they portray. Richard Henry Lee is treated with less respect than most, being a comic popinjay of an egotist, and Doug Wilder is a lot of fun as he works his way through "The Lees of Old Virginia," but the adherents to the heritage of the British nation are shown as earnest, honest men who have sincere differences of opinion. Indeed, Stone writes a marvelously moving moment at the end when the victorious John Adams pays tribute to the defeated John Dickenson who, in Kevin Adams heart-felt if slightly stiff portrayal, has fought with all the energy and passion at his command in a cause he holds dear. Even the question of slavery, which was finally resolved on the side of human dignity only by bloody civil war decades later, is presented with both sides landing telling blows in the argument.

Musical theater isn't exactly the strength of the Keegan Theatre, but they have collaborated here with Runyondland Enterprises, the group that put together the fine production of this show at Alexandria's old West End Dinner Theatre in 2003 which featured Tinder in the same role he plays here, and they brought along JoEllen Borton as Musical Director. With a weak accompaniment emerging from the side of the wing-less stage, and actors cast more for their acting than for their singing, this production is musically only acceptable, but does hit a satisfying stride from time to time. The opposition to the Adams/Franklin/Jefferson team gets the short end of the musical stick. David Jourdan's portrayal of slavery-defending Edward Rutledge is dramatically effective but his singing of the emotionally charged "Molasses to Rum" falls a bit flat and the choreographed caricature of conservatism, "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" is more effectively danced than sung. Still, the message gets through.

There is a trend of late which deserves some attention and discussion. It is the moving of intermission with little regard for the impact on the dramatic structure of a play. At Arena Stage both Cabaret and She Loves Me were done with intermissions in places that their creators never intended. Both were the worse for it. Now we have a 1776 with an intermission following what had been scene six of a seven scene, one act show. It was a lengthy one-act, to be sure. When it was revived on Broadway in 1997 it was presented with an intermission at the end of scene five, sending the audience out for its break right after the emotionally charged "Mamma Look Sharp." That had been the original plan of its creators and that is the way it was presented at Ford's Theatre in the excellent 2003 revival. The placement of the intermission made dramatic sense. Here, it seems more a function of the fanny fatigue factor - when the audience gets uncomfortable enough in the tightly packed seats of the Church Street Theater they are provided a stretch break. Better it had been where it made some dramatic sense as well.  

Written by Peter Stone. Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Music direction by JoEllen Borton. Choreographed by Elena Velasco. Design: Mick Tinder (set) Emily Riehl-Bedford and Patricia Carlson-Tinder (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: AJ Ackleson, Kevin Adams, Carolyn Agan, Todd Baldwin, Chris Borton, Bob Cohen, Joe Cronin, James Finley, Jim Howard, Dave Jourdan, John Robert Keena, Rick Kenney, Rich Clare, Jon Lawlor, Robert Leembruggen, Randahl Lindgren, Bruce Lugn, Tom Lynch, Daniel Lyons, Richard Montgomery, Colin Smith, KJ Thorarinsson, Mick Tinder, Patricia Tinder, Doug Wilder.

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June 7 - July 7, 2007
The Importance of Being Earnest
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:35 - one intermission and a pause
Tickets $15 - $20
Performances at Arlington's Theatre on the Run

Click here to buy the script

Like a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera without the music of Sullivan, Oscar Wilde's superbly crafted convoluted contrivance has pleasures at every turn. By mounting a bare-bones production with just enough scenery to establish locale in a small and intimate theater, Keegan's New Island Project series of  plays "stripped to their foundation" tries to shed new light on an old favorite. They provide a very enjoyable evening. However, they hardly "shed new light" on this much produced classic. It is not that this period piece has suffered over the years from too many sumptuous productions obscuring its essence. Indeed, it was first written with an eye toward opulent costuming and lavish sets for the St. James' Theater in London where Lady Windemere's Fan had just finished a long run.

Storyline: An English gentleman lives a staid and proper existence in the country but adopts a second identity in the town so he can be free of some of the conventions of society. One of his friends in town maintains an equally fictitious friend in the country in order to avoid society's demands. The two fictitious identities get mixed up as both men woo women who had always wanted to marry men named Ernest. Both men are so smitten they would go to the extent of re-baptizing themselves as true Ernests. It is learned, however, that the country gentleman was abandoned as an infant and, when his true identity is revealed by his former governess, it is revealed that that he really is Ernest.

Director Dorothy Neumann varies the pacing as the evening progresses and keeps the focus quite clear, which is important for a convoluted comedy. She works with the three-act version of the play. It was originally a four-act piece but is certainly best known in this semi-streamlined edition. The play is brimming with the wit and charm of Oscar Wilde. Much of that wit requires a precision of delivery which it gets here in only some of the performances. The rendition of the two central characters, the two upper-class British gentlemen, are a bit too relaxed and easygoing to get the most out of Wilde's wildest concepts. 

Christopher Dinolfo and Mike Innocenti play the two gentlemen caught up in their own machinations. They are energetic and spirited but rarely seem very upper-crust British. Barbara Klein, on the other hand, is the very essence of a haughty society matron as the insufferable Lady Bracknell. When she's on stage, you can believe this comedy of class is targeted with precision. The girls who want to marry Ernests are Erin Buchanan and Suzanne Edgar. Each crafts her own character with care and they create a chemistry between them that sparkles. The secondary roles of the governess and her own suitor are given sharp performances by Rosemary Regan and John F. Degan, whose persona is so reminiscent of classic comedian Victor Moore that it makes you wonder if Moore ever played the role himself. He would have been fabulous. As it is, the team of Regan and Degan is memorable for the way they look deep into each other's eyes.

While the set consists principally of an archway that is moved from one spot on stage to another to hint at different locales from London to the country, the costumes by William Pucilowski are hardly simple hints at the fashions of the day or the class. While the men make do with mildly period suits, the women are decked out with colorful gowns of sumptuous fabrics that are distinctly late nineteenth century English society. Suzanne Edgar is resplendent in a pink confection which ties to the script when Innocenti compares her to a pink rose in act three.

Written by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Dorothy Neumann. Design: Eric and Kerry Lucas (set) Bill Pucilowsky (costumes) Katrina Wiskup and Carol H. Baker (properties) Dan Martin (lights and sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Daniel Chavez (stage manager). Cast: Erin Buchanan, John F. Degen, Christopher Dinolfo, Suzanne Edgar, Melissa Hmelnicky, Mike Innocenti, Barbara Klein, Rosemary Regan.

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April 12 - May 19, 2007
A Man for All Seasons
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:45 - one intermission
Performed at the Church Street Theatre
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a superbly engrossing
 and moving drama

Click here to buy the script

It is hard to say which of two major performances in this absorbing historical drama is the most satisfying - Tim Lynch as the man of conscience, Sir Thomas Moore, or Robert Leembruggen as "Common Man" who acts both the narrator and a host of smaller but not insignificant characters (he goes from servant to executioner). Both Lynch and Leembruggen are wonderful in their own way. Director Susan Marie Rhea shifts the focus from one to the other and back again with such felicity that there is a sense of balance to match the heft of the author's more deeply moving moments. That author, English playwright Robert Bolt, wrote this as a paean to individual devotion to conscience. He avoided excessive preachiness through the use of humor and his ability to keep Sir Thomas from seeming pride-bound. Still, in the wrong hands the play can seem a diatribe. Not here. Here it is a moving drama with all of its lessons entirely worth learning. Seeing it in this production is a pleasure not to be missed.

Storyline: In the reign of Henry VIII, Sir Thomas Moore rises to the exalted rank of Lord Chancellor and advisor to the King. When Henry declares himself the supreme head of the Church of England and breaks with the Roman Catholic Church in order to divorce the first of his six wives in search of an heir, Moore's conscience will not allow him to accede to the King's demand for support. His steadfast refusal leads to his execution.

This is another of the marvelous, intellectually satisfying dramas of the middle of the twentieth century that came out of the flirtation with repression which is now often just regarded as the Red Scare of McCarthyism. It was 1954, and Arthur Miller's The Crucible had just opened on Broadway, when Bolt's play was performed on the BBC in England where the furor over Klaus Fuchs' conviction as a Soviet spy had only recently calmed down. Conscience in the face of authority seemed to need championing (doesn't it always?). The success of the radio play convinced him to convert it to a full theatrical play, which opened in London and then was produced successfully on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Play in 1962. There followed a movie with Paul Scofield winning an Oscar for his performance, and a made-for-television movie with Charlton Heston taking on the role. Now, memories of Scofield and Heston can blend with Lynch for those who see this production, for his performance will certainly linger long in the mind.

Lynch is the focus of so many of the scenes, his must be the performance that gets the bulk of the attention, and, thus, the bulk of the praise. He's both superbly human and tremendously principled - no mean feat. His explanations of his reasons for being true to his convictions ("you could as well ask me to change the color of my eyes") could sound so stuffy from one who seems filled with the pride in high office. Instead, there is a real humility here that makes his adherence to fundamental beliefs completely natural and sympathetic. Leembruggen comes to the fore time and time again to keep the play moving along and to act as the audience's guide to what is happening. After all, the events took place almost five hundred years ago, so audiences need some way to put some of the offices, relationships and duties into perspective. Leembruggen also provides some of the much-needed comic relief. Indeed, he strikes just the right comedic tone with his very first line, the opening line of the entire play.

The supporting cast offers performances of varying quality. Some, like Charlotte Akin as Moore's wife and Jon Townson as his sovereign are simply marvelous. Akin's portrayal of the progress of Alice Moore's steadily escalating sense of panic over her husband's fate is fascinating, and Townson gives us an all-too-brief look at the young and virile Henry VIII, so unlike the old man in search of a sixth wife we so often see. Carlos Bustamante is very good as the corruptible Richard Rich, as is Jake Call as the Spanish Ambassador to Henry's court. Unfortunately, Mark Rhea never seems even English let alone a member of the English court as Thomas Cromwell. Trudi Olivetti makes a fine contribution in the small part of the woman who gave Moore a gift that plays in the plot, but she makes even more of a contribution as the production's dramaturg, for she created a fascinating study guide which many will want to consult after being challenged by this challenging play. It is available online at Keegan's website.

Written by Robert Bolt. Directed by Susan Marie Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Kelly Peacock (costumes) Katrina Wiskup (properties) Dan Martin (lights) Timothy S. Shaw (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Christina Coakley (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Charlotte Akin, Carlos Bustamante, Jake Call, Melissa-Leigh Douglass, Jim Howard, Mike Kozemchak, Robert Leembruggen, Timothy Hayes Lynch, Trudi Olivetti, Mark Rhea, Jon Townson.

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January 18 - February 17, 2007
The Tempest
Reviewed by William Bryan

Running time 2:30 - one intermission
An enjoyable production of Shakespeare’s last play
Performances at the Church Street Theatre.
Click here to buy the script

Shakespeare in Washington continues with this production of the Bard’s last play by the Keegan Theater. Featuring a unique set representing all of an enchanted island without scene changes, and with a very experienced actor in the lead role, this production hits all of the right notes but doesn’t quite soar. The overall impact is enjoyable and it is fairly humorous at times. Any work by Shakespeare requires an ensemble performance. Though a powerful lead remains necessary, the lead cannot carry the show alone. Here Robert Leembruggen provides a strong center for Shakespeare’s romantic fantasy and is well supported by the actress playing the sprite Ariel. Too often, however, the supporting cast shows it lacks the level of experience with the language and cadence of Shakespeare to make the archaic tongue easy to understand. Still, the production is a good opportunity to experience this play for the first time or to return once more to the birth of such famous lines as “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” and “We are such stuff as dreams are made of…”

Storyline: Deposed Duke Prospero, abandoned on a desert island lo these dozen years, sees his opportunity for justice when his usurper passes by in a ship. Prospero, who has used his time studying sorcery, conjures up a fierce storm during which his usurper's party abandons their foundering ship and washes up on his island. Prospero's daughter falls in love with the usurper's son. The usurper and his entourage get involved in many schemes as Prospero's revenge proceeds, but all are reconciled through the love of parents for children and children for each other.

Director Timothy Shaw stages an admirable show and brings out the best in each of his performers. The lead, Prospero, and the “airy spirit” Ariel, are the two best in the show. Robert Leembruggen, as the deposed Duke, brings with him a long history and many performances of Shakespearean work. He has clearly studied his craft and his Prospero sets a high standard of excellence not matched by all of the cast. Courtney Weber, however, is outstanding as Ariel. Her mannerisms and movements, from a stilted walk to a habit of closing her eyes for long periods of time, go a long way toward suspending disbelief and letting us see the other worldly creature she represents.

The Church Street Theater lacks wing space and this imposes limits on the set designer and director alike. The set by George Lucas is admirable in its single-structure solution to the confines of the small stage, but the result that all the scenes use the same space. Scene changes are often signaled by some creative lighting effects by Dan Martin, bit it takes a concerted effort by the audience to accept some of these different settings. The best feature is the ship of the ill fated voyage that opens the saga. It collapses through some clever construction to become the home of Prospero and his daughter for the remainder of the play. The lush vegetation, and the subtle but ever present sound effects of a living jungle, all blend together to make a fantasy island in a limited space.

Since all of Shakespeare’s works are way beyond copyright, each theater can change what they will. There are some changes here that worked well and others that did not. Shaw chose to make one sailor a southern drunk, and this works to hysterical effect. Not so his casting a female as the King’s brother. While she was not disguised as a male, neither was she dressed female, so her obvious sexual difference caused an abrupt clash each time some reference was made to her gender. But these are minor flaws, and as a whole the night is worth the trip downtown for an intimate setting and some unique experiences.

Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Timothy S. Shaw (and sound design). Design: George Lucas (set) Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Ray Gneiwek (photography) Helen Lynn (stage manager). Cast: Joe Baker, Jeremy Brown, Jewel Greenberg, Mike Gregorek, Rob Leembruggen, Sarah Melinda, Eric Messner, Tim O’Kane, Guy Palace, John Porter, Laura Quenzl, Ally Raber, Courtney Weber, Alia Williams.

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January 5 - February 3, 2007
Mojo Mickybo
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 1:10 - no intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for an energetic, entertaining hour
Click here to buy the script

What is, or more properly, who are Mojo Mickybo? The title of Owen McCafferty's two-performer slice of Irish life provides no clue to the meaning of the phrase to anyone who doesn't already know about the play. So the piece opens with an explanation - an introduction. "Mojo" says a young man with "Mojo" on his shirt. "Mickybo" says a young man with "Mickybo" on his shirt. They repeat it until you finally get it - those are their nicknames. But the title isn't "Mojo AND Mickybo" and therein lies a clue to the energetic, engaging power of the piece. The two, who turn out to be pre-adolescent (age ten or eleven?) boys merge into a single entity - a pair. Just the way Paul Newman and Robert Redford blended into what might well have been called "ButchCassidyTheSundanceKid." Two marvelously flexible actors not only bring Mojo and Mickybo to life, they bring all the characters interacting with the pair both in reality and in their imagination to life as well.

Storyline: Two young boys on the streets of Belfast may be from opposite sides of the religious troubles enveloping Ireland in the 70s, but their shared fascination with Hollywood male bonding films, especially Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, forms the basis for a friendship strong enough to provide escape from the dangers and terrors of the violence that surrounds them.

McCafferty's play is a relatively new addition to the body of Irish slice of life plays that seem to capitalize on the colorful nature of not only the local brogue but the romantic mindset that values ability to build stories out of small details. It shares the source of fascination and enjoyment of Mark O'Rowe's Howie the Rookie, Marie Jones' Stones in his Pockets, Conor McPherson's The Weir and even Enda Walsh's Disco Pigs. It revels in its own theatricality and reveals the impact of domestic strife through the accumulation of tiny details. Here the world is viewed through the eyes of kids too young to understand the historic importance of their times but old enough to feel the pains of both normal growing up and of the adult conflicts that circumscribe their world.

The seventy minutes fly by at a carefully established pace. It seems pell-mell but is, in fact, carefully controlled and cleverly modulated. Director Eric Lucas keeps adjusting that pace so it is not so fast that it is as exhausting for the audience as it must be for the performers, and certainly not so fast that there isn't time for the careful listening required due to the Irish brogue they sport. But it is always fast enough to keep the tempo impressive and the energy level high. Part of the reason the pace seems so right is that moments of movement punctuate explosions of dialogue, giving you time to translate the Irish street vocabulary into meaning without any apparent pause. Through it all, the focus on the progression of the boys' tale is clear and precise. This is directing that is worthy of study.

The performers, Dinolfo and Innocenti, mesh so well that it is difficult to discuss their individual contributions to the piece. If Mojo and Mickybo are "Mojo Mickybo" then Dinolfo and Innocenti are "Dinolfo Innocenti." They rely on their own physical differences - as well as the fact that their characters' nicknames are written on their shirts - to help the audience keep things straight and lose themselves in the energetic cavorting of young friends at play. What is more impressive is that their creation of the adult characters in the kids' story is consistent with the children's view. These are adults as seen by their children, not as they really are. But children are incredibly perceptive so their versions of the adults are insightful in fresh ways. The script gives them the material and they run with it - literally!

Written by Owen McCafferty. Directed by Eric Lucas. Designed by Kerry and Eric Lucas. Lighting by Dan Martin. Photo by Ray Gneiwek. Cast: Christopher Dinolfo, Michael Innocenti.

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November 30 - December 23, 2006
Faith Healer
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time: 2:25 - one intermission
An intriguing display of acting skills in a quartet
 of lyrical monologues
Performances are at Theatre II in the Gunston Arts Center

Click here to buy the script

Irish playwright Brian Friel’s monologue play presents great opportunities for three actors and these three take full advantage. Each creates a strong character with identifiable traits that make the person human, not just a dramatic device. In the interactions between their stories there are enough common touches to convince you that these people's lives really did intersect and their fortunes did combine, but just how is a bit unclear. That may well be intentional, leaving some of the connections to your imagination. The play may well mean different things to different members of the audience. This is the first offering of Keegan's new program of smaller, more intimate productions at a somewhat lower price ($15 for students and seniors, $20 general admission) under the stewardship of Eric and Kerry Waters Lucas. The mission statement of this "New Island Project" includes a marvelous description of the impact of this, their first production: "a predominately gray palate provides an open setting where actor and word are the strongest colors to tell the story." Of course, it helps that the words are Brian Friel's.

Storyline: An Irishman who has made something of a career traveling the back roads of Wales and Scotland holding healing sessions, often with no more than a dozen or so participants, tells the story of when he returned to Ireland with his wife (if wife she was) and his manager for what turned out to be his final tour.

Monologue plays are always tricky, because, while one monologue can be fascinating, four can be too much of a good thing. Each monologue must have a dramatic structure of its own, building to a climax as well as creating a character. The challenge for a playwright is to give the entire play a dramatic structure building to its own climax. Friel is best known for his language. His ability to capture the lyric beauty of the Irish way of speaking has never been more evident than it is here. His language works on three levels: There is the beauty of the sound; there is the joy of the wordplay; there is the story itself. Friel’s other plays often feel a bit mechanical in their plots and a monologue play could easily fall prey to this weakness. Instead, the formal structure of four monologues (the faith healer opens and closes the play with the wife and the manager flanking the intermission) turns out to be a help as he places plot details within the narratives.

Both of the Lucases deliver Friel's language with strong Irish brogues. Kerry Waters Lucas is the most understandable as her brogue is lyrical and musical without being thick or dense. Eric Lucas, on the other hand, does slip into a density from time to time that forces the listener to concentrate on interpreting the sound in the way you might have to identify a foreign word or phrase before turning your attention to its meaning. It is challenging to keep up with his meaning, but it is rewarding. Mick Tinder sets himself apart from the pair by adopting a slightly cockney tinged English accent appropriate to the manager of tours on the eastern side of the Irish Sea. All three succeed in capturing and holding the audience's attention.

In establishing their "gray palate," the Lucases have designed a simple stage - planking with a single strand of lights, a curtain and a poster announcing the faith healing session. Eric Lucas' "Frank" owns the center - the center stage where he delivered so many of his messages of faith, while Kerry Waters Lucas' "Grace" is off to one side - cast away from the center of her man's life, and Mick Tinder's "Teddy" on the other, trying to maintain his own separation from the fate of his friend/partner/stranger. The whole is flanked by two tellingly empty chairs. Dan Martin's lighting merges the disparate parts.

Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: Kerry Waters Lucas and Eric Lucas (set) Dan Martin (lights) Ray Gneiwek (photography) Mike Innocenti (stage manager). Cast: Eric Lucas, Kerry Waters Lucas, Mick Tinder.

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-October 19 - November 19, 2006
Agnes of God
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:00 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for three fine performances in an emotionally charged intellectual drama
Performances at the Church Street Theatre

Click here to buy the script

There are two ways to approach this fascinating debate play pitting faith against rationality. One is to pretend its issues are such that the truth can be divined in a mere two hours, even if the history of the last two millennia proves the opposite. This is the easy way out. The other is to admit that there are complications that keep escaping human analysis - matters of faith and miracles which conflict with human frailties. The later is the harder to construct but it is the only approach that can be thoroughly satisfying, and it is that approach that director Susan Marie Rhea adopts. Her production resolutely refuses to resolve the issues at hand. Instead, it airs all sides of a fascinating argument. Notice that there are not just two sides. Issues of religious faith and human relationships rarely have either one or even just two answers, and the final answers are rarely determined with any finality. Rhea and her marvelous cast let the ambiguities float in the air as the lights come up at the end of the production, and they trust the intellectual capacities of their audience to grapple with multi-faceted issues without the crutch of simplicity.

Storyline: A dead infant has been discovered in a wastebasket in the convent bedroom of a nun. A court-appointed psychiatrist tries to reach the truth in the case by interviewing both the nun and her Mother Superior.

John Pielmeier's play does include answers to many of the questions confronting the nun, the Mother Superior and the psychiatrist, but placing any sort of emphasis on the clues embedded in the text does a disservice to the confounding complications that define human relationships. Especially those between these three characters, one wise in the ways of the world, one wise in the ways of the church, and one naive in both worlds. Each raises issues that neither of the others can resolve completely. This is the key to both the theatrical magic the play can work and to the intellectual and emotional honesty that marks Rhea's approach. In pursuing this approach she places her confidence in the three actresses.

That trust is not misplaced. Sheri Herren carries herself with the assurance of professional success in the secular world. Linda High contrasts Herren's semi-haughty self assurance with a sense of command as the Mother Superior tempered by a worldly wisdom of a woman with years of marriage preceding her taking of vows. Ghillian Porter has an emotional charge within her naivety that makes her claims of innocent confusion affecting. High delivers the most complex performance of the three. Herren has a bit of a problem with her character's addiction to nicotine. Smoking on stage is always difficult for a non-smoker. We don't know if Herren is a non-smoker, but she uses cigarettes on stage as props rather than something to hang on to the way nicotine addicts do.

One secret of the success of this production is the spare but elegant setting. Nothing distracts your attention from the intellectual issues being presented, but nothing seems either cheap or excessively theatrical. Using just draped flimsy curtain material to flank a plain playing area furnished simply with a chair and an ashtray, with a prayer station on an upstage platform, attention is focused on the three performances and the issues presented. While a touch of music emphasizes the locale of a convent, the sounds in the production reinforce but in no way distract from the interplay of intellectual debate or the interrelationships of the characters.

Written by John Pielmeier. Directed by Susan Marie Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Rich Montgomery and Susan Marie Rhea (sound) Ray Gneiwek (photography) Megan Thrift (stage manager). Cast: Sheri S. Herren, Linda High, Ghillian Porter.

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July 27 - August 19, 2006
Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Running time 1:40 - no intermission
A comedy of ideas by Steve Martin
Performances in Theatre II at the Gunston Arts Center

Click here to buy the script

If you missed the production of Steve Martin's comedy of ideas earlier this year at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, here's your chance for a make-up. It is proof that Martin isn't just another "wild and crazy guy" cavorting before the cameras. He's also a clever writer who has produced television scripts, screenplays, novellas and plays -- both original and adaptations. His adaptation of Carl Sternheim's The Underpants was given a highly successful production by the Washington Stage Guild three years ago. His most successful play, however, is this one-act comedy built on a fictitious meeting between two of the most famous people of the twentieth century, who, long before they were famous and at the very start of the century, debate just what is in store for the next 100 years. The play seems a strange choice for Keegan, with its traditional concentration on heavier works of theater, but they give it a game try and get some - but not all - of the flippantry right while they hammer home many of Martin's pithier observations on art, science, popular culture and human nature.

Storyline: In the Paris of 1904, in a small neighborhood bar called the Lapin Agile, which actually exists in Montmontre, the local patrons include an as-yet undiscovered artist named Pablo Picasso and an as-yet unpublished physicist named Albert Einstein. Over glasses of wine they explain to the other patrons their views of what the new century holds, a century they each believe will be defined by their gifts. However, they are joined by two others who may be icons of the new century.

Martin wrote this diverting piece in 1993 and it has had a remarkably steady series of productions in small professional and community theaters ever since it premiered as the inaugural production of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. It was greeted as full of optimism, wit and insight, dealing with sometimes weighty issues without being weighed down by any pomposity, and without taking itself too seriously. The play continues to offer just those delights. Scott Pafumi directs this production with an eye toward the more intellectually interesting issues Martin chose to deal with, but, perhaps as a result of some casting choices, misses with some of the lighter, more "wild and crazy guy" touches.

The casting offers two very fine fits. Most specifically, Susan Marie Rhea, who has demonstrated a flair for light comedy before, especially in her very first outing with Keegan, the western-themed The Taming of the Shrew back before the launching of Potomac Stages. She is a bright delight as the barmaid who is the bartender's girlfriend. Also doing fine light comedy work is Eric Lucas as Einstein. We are more used to seeing him do heavier parts but he throws off light lines here with aplomb. That light touch comes clearest in Martin's crucial exchange between Einstein and Picasso over the meaning of their work. (Picasso: "... yours is letters." Einstein: "Yours is lines." Picasso: "My lines mean something." Einstein: "So do mine." Picasso: "Mine touches the heart." Einstein: "Mine touches the head." Picasso: "Mine will change the future." Einstein: "Oh, and mine won't?")

That light exchange with such important concepts works best when both Picasso and Einstein are tossing off the lines in rapid repartee. Unfortunately, in Mark Rhea's hands, the Picasso side of the equation gets bogged down in a touch of angst that Rhea just doesn't seem to be able to shed from his normal stage persona.  The extremely wide playing area of George Lucas' set is a challenge that Pafumi doesn't really solve in blocking the piece. Almost all of Lucas' good lines are delivered across the stage, hidden from those sitting on the right side of the house, while many of Rhea's shoot across the opposite direction which makes them hard to catch from the left.

Written by Steve Martin. Directed by Scott D. Pafumi. Design: George Lucas (set) Maria Vetsch (costumes) Katrina Wiskup and Sheri Herren (properties) Dan Martin (lights and sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Helen Lynn (stage manager). Cast: James A. Howard, Mike Kozemchak, Katie Loughnane, Eric Lucas, Kerry Waters Lucas, Rich Montgomery, Brian Randall, Jackie Reed, Mark Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea, Jennifer Richter, Mick Tinder.

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April 27 - June 11,  2006
Bold Girls

Reviewed April 29
Running time 2:00 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages pick for a fine ensemble performance of an absorbing drama
Click here to buy the script

When Keegan gets a piece right, they really get it right. Frequently, when they hit dramatic pay dirt it is with a play by an Irish author. This play isn't by an Irish author but it is Irish to the core. Playwright Rona Munro was born in Scotland and lives and works in London, but her portrait of life under the corrosive pressure of the violence of Ireland's "Troubles" feels like a slice of Belfast life, and its characters ring true in Mark A. Rhea's production featuring sterling performances from four accomplished actresses. The brogue here is definitively Irish but never gets in the way of following the dialogue and the physical production has the same feeling that the actresses accent has, deep down, honest Irish in sensitivity, appearance, sound and pace. These people have been drained by the violence of the world around them but retain a sense of self-worth, pride and, if not hope, at least an expectation that they will be able to survive. They are four women you come to know, understand and care about over two absorbing hours. Performances will be at Theatre II in Arlington's Gunston Arts Center until May 13 and then the production will transfer to the Church Street Theater in Washington for a May 18 - June 11 run.

Storyline: A woman and her grown daughter live next door to a young woman with children in violence-marred West Belfast at the height of "The Troubles" where they try to maintain some semblance of normal life despite the fact that all of the men in their lives have either been killed or imprisoned. Into the yard between them wonders a waif with more than a passing connection to their pasts.

Munro's play is smoothly plotted with details of the relationship of the four women emerging slowly out of small details in the dialogue. The concentration is on the creation of the characters and  the establishment of their relationships to each other - at least among the three residents of the war torn neighborhood in West Belfast. Rhea allows tiny details in the action to match the details in the dialogue to create a sense of reality, especially within the one house where most of the action takes place. A glance out a window, a weary shudder at a distant sound, a short search for a cigarette - these are the unremarkable everyday actions of life in this place at this time. As the more dramatic revelations emerge late in the play, the pace accelerates and the intensity escalates but Rhea makes sure that the escalation never gets ahead of the story.

Fine ensemble work is the hallmark of this production. The four actresses work together smoothly to create the sense of reality and to help each other establish characteristics that mark each character. They listen to each other and react to each other's lines in visible but never showy ways. Ghillian Porter covers the widest range of emotions in the central role of the woman raising her children without her husband. She nicely avoids excesses early in the play in order to set up the impact of her explosion later on. Helen Pafumi and Linda High seem to communicate in the recognition of small signs as a mother and daughter can, picking up on each other's gestures, postures and tone of voice. Coming as the stranger to this trio of women who know each other so well, Carolyn Agan enters the world of the play tentatively and even furtively. She becomes a major force rather than a furtive presence when the plot allows, covering a range of emotions in the final revelation scene.

George Lucas' set spreads out along the wide side of the rectangular black box of Theatre II with Porter's house on the right and a structure on the left that becomes the club the girls escape to for one night out as "Bold Girls" trying to ignore if not escape the reality of the danger and violence filling their world. Between the two structures, he's placed a ramp that is part alleyway, part hillside and part no man's land. The final lighting effect as dawn brings a new beginning is beautifully realized.

Written by Rona Munro. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Maria Vetsch (costumes)  Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Megan Thrift (stage manager). Cast: Carolyn Agan, Linda High, Helen Pafumi, Ghillian Porter.

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January 19 - February 26, 2006
Death of a Salesman

Reviewed January 24
Running time 2:45 - one intermission
Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning tragedy

Click here to buy the script

Keegan returns to Church Street with a classic play of the failure of the American dream, Arthur Miller's portrait of a salesman who believes in success “riding on a smile and a shoeshine” but whose life collapses on all sides. Dorothy Neumann directs Brian Hemmingsen in one of the most famous roles in the American dramatic repertoire. Any production of the play rises or falls on the performance of its title character, the salesman Willy Loman. This one never really falls flat in Hemmingsen's hands, but it never soars to the heights of tragedy that are available in Miller's script. At times Hemmingsen seems to be Hemmingsen playing Willy rather than being Willy - and that is a burden the rest of the capable cast can't completely overcome.

Storyline: At the end of a career as a traveling salesman, each of Willy Loman’s dreams turns sour. He looses his job. His children turn out not to be the successes he dreamed about. He has a loving wife but he hasn’t been faithful to her. He comes to believe that he is worth more dead than alive, at least until the next premium on his life insurance policy is due.

Hemmingsen uses too many gestures, postures and mannerisms that draw attention to the fact that he is acting. From his first entrance as Willy, as he sets down his salesman's sample cases, he deflates in a move so dramatic you almost look to see if this Willy thinks there is someone in the house watching. He is surrounded by some fine talent. Charlotte Akin does nicely with the role of his wife and her final, graveside scene is quite affecting. Mike Innocenti successfully tackles the always difficult role of the oh-so-shallow youngest son who can abandon his father in the midst of an emotional breakdown to chase a skirt. Mark Rhea has his moments as the older son who sees the truth behind the lies that have made up his father's life, especially his final confrontation scene when he calls his father's bluff and intones the mantra "I'm a dime a dozen, Willy. A dime a dozen!" Rhea looks strangely small next to the towering Hemmingsen, which enhances Rhea's ability to portray the son's realization that he isn't the giant of a man his father thinks he is.

Some of the finest performances come from outside of the Loman family. David Jourdan delivers a nicely crafted rendition of the next door neighbor who tries to help Willy without embarrassing him, and Christopher Dinolfo grows from teenage neighborhood nerd to mature success as the Jourdan's son. Susan Marie Rhea finds the balance between seductiveness and crass manipulation as the buyer's secretary at one of Willy's out of town stops. She is very good in her one full scene, a crucial one which reveals both Willy's adultery and the crisis with his son.

The play has often drawn some of the most interesting incidental music to underscore its raw emotions. The original Broadway production had a score by the great Alex North that is still available on a CD for use in local productions of the play. Keegan uses original underscoring composed by Matt Rippetoe which is both evocative and effective. In addition the atmosphere is enhanced by playing recordings by the Washington Saxophone Quartet of music by Bela Bartok and Aaron Copland to create an eerily contemporary American feel before and after the performance. (Was there a bit of Piazzolla mixed in there as well?)

Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Dorothy Neumann. Incidental music performed by the Washington Saxophone Quartet. Design: Stefan Gibson (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Matt Rippetoe (sound and music) Ray Gniewek (photography) Sean Corcoran (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Charlotte Akin, Jake Call, Christopher Dinolfo, Jewel Greenberg, Brian Hemmingsen, Mike Innocenti,  David Jourdan, Callie Kimball, Mike Kozemchak, Mark Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea. 

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November 17 - December 17, 2005
Portrait of a Madonna and
Suddenly Last Summer

Reviewed November 19
Running time 2:20 - one intermission
Performances at Gunston Arts Center
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a pair of  stunning performances by a single actress
Click here to buy the script
Click here to buy the script

There are two reasons to see this pair of one-act plays by Tennessee Williams: Sheri S. Herren and Sheri S. Herren. In one she is a haggard, completely worn out woman overwhelmed by her world. In the other she is an imperious, self-controlled and self-absorbed woman used to overwhelming the rest of the people in her world. Each performance is magnetic, tightly controlled and completely independent of the other. Williams' two short pieces have the strength of plot, the uniqueness of character and the poetry of language for which he is so well known. The evening is directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski which is another good reason to see the pairing. As is her habit, she brings out the best in the entire company. That company includes some actors whose best is very good indeed, including Marybeth Fritsky and Timothy Hayes Lynch.

Storyline(s): (Portrait of a Madonna) An aging former Southern Belle with a history of  mental instability reaches the end of her rope. Living alone in an apartment before World War II, she is tormented by hallucinations of intrusions and rape. Her demands for increased security serve only to bring her condition to the attention of the outside world. (Suddenly Last Summer) In her garden in New Orleans in 1935, the mother of a young man who was killed on vacation summons her niece who witnessed the death, and a doctor who is developing a new psychological treatment: a lobotomy.  The story the niece reveals is devastating to the mother who wants it suppressed even if by surgery.

While some of his better known works (A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie) may have been produced often enough that audiences no longer hear the dialogue with fresh ears, these two short pieces let us hear again, as if for the first time, Williams' astonishing capacity to create imagery in the briefest of descriptions and capture essential concepts in brief statements. So often, writers use an example from Suddenly Last Summer of his ability to encapsulate a mind set in a brief statement -- the twelve words "We all use each other. That's what we think of as love." However, they often neglect the sentence that follows it which says that not being able to use each other is what we call "hate". Its that quick reversal, seemingly so redundant but profound in its effect, that changes a lecture into a thought process.

Suddenly Last Summer is not really famous because of its success as a play but because it was adapted for a movie and the movie broke more Hollywood taboos per foot of film than anything since the establishment of the Hayes Office, that legendary exercise in self-censorship the industry adopted one step ahead of governmental intervention. Portrait of a Madonna, on the other hand, isn't famous at all. Both provide star parts for a female lead. Three years ago when the Port City Playhouse presented these two together they had different actresses in the two parts. Here, instead, Kobylinski entrusts both parts to Herren. She had reason for her confidence having directed her in Harold Pinter play Betrayal. Herren's twin performances justify the confidence.

Marybeth Fritzky has the other strong female part (this one in Suddenly Last Summer) and she acquits herself well although she is just a bit restrained in her final breakdown as the niece who is facing the possibility of a lobotomy because of the knowledge she holds in her brain. Timothy Hayes Lynch does a splendid job of being sympathetic toward the decrepit old woman in Portrait of a Madonna without seeming mawkish. Kudos as well go to the design team, especially Keith Bell whose sound design could well be used by other better financed companies as a guide to making both off stage and on stage sounds seem authentic.

Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski. Design: Grant Kevin Lane (set and costumes) Arthur Rodger (hair and make-up) Suzanne Maloney (properties) Franklin C. Coleman (lights) Keith Bell (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Donna Reynolds (stage manager). Cast: Marybeth Fritzky, Kathryn Fuller, Maggie Glauber, Scott Graham, Jewel Greenberg, Sheri S. Herren, Timothy Hayes Lynch, Mike Sherman, Chuck Whalen.

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October 27 - December 3, 2005
A Streetcar Named Desire

Reviewed November 3
Running time 2:45 - one intermission
Performed at the Church Street Theater
A classic of the American theater

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The story of the Andrew Keegan Theatre Company really began here at the Church Street Theater with Eric Lucas and Mark A. Rhea co-directing a Tennessee Williams classic some eight years ago. That play was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and it brought Keegan to the attention of the entire Potomac Region. This year, Lucas and Rhea have teamed up again on Williams with a searing if not necessarily soaring production of Streetcar which they toured throughout Ireland this summer and have brought home to the Church Street Theater. Again Rhea is the leading man. This time he's an earthy and physical Stanley Kowalski acting opposite his real-life wife, Susan Marie Rhea, who is the strength of the play as his deeply-in-love wife and the affectionate sister to Kerry Waters' less successful take on the classic Williams woman, frail and failing Blanche DuBois. This time out, however, Lucas also takes the stage and his performance as the shy and halting man who will be either Blanche's salvation or the final straw that breaks her spirit elevates the secondary plot to its proper place in the drama.

Storyline: After having lost the family estate and her welcome in the small Mississippi town of her birth, fragile Blanche DuBois has no place to turn for sanctuary other than her younger sister's home in the French Quarter in New Orleans. When she arrives she's shocked to find her sister's home is a rundown two-room flat where she lives with her decidedly blue collar, rough-around-the-edges husband. As she spends a summer on the couch she's stripped of her remaining pretensions of gentility and even sanity.

Streetcar burst into the public consciousness in 1947. It was a time when the American theater played a greater role in popular culture than it does today, so it may be difficult today to imagine the reaction to this tale of lust and love at the edges of sanity. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, earned a Tony Award for Jessica Tandy as its Blanche and a life magazine cover for its Stanley, Marlon Brando, whose anguished scream "Stella!" became a catchword for a generation and material for impersonators for half a century. It was the second hit for Williams. The Glass Menagerie had preceded it and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth were still to come.

Kerry Waters' Blanche enters with more physical strength than many other actresses show, but with her emotional weaknesses already evident. Her emotional deterioration is well modulated but so many of Williams' mellifluous lines written for this deteriorating southern belle seem swallowed in her rather unusual cooing accent. At the same time, her reactions to her new surroundings seem somehow less horrified, less repulsed than simply upset over the inconvenience of it all. She is surrounded by three very strong performances. The Rheas make the relationship between Stanley and Stella a clear case of can't-keep-their-eyes-off-each-other love. Susan Rhea adds a lovely sibling affection and even a sense of loyalty toward her older sister that works well, while Mark Rhea emphasizes the affection over the sense of possessiveness that underlies their relationship. Lucas' Mitch grows from shy and retiring to hopeful and even slightly daring before being crushed by reality in a splendidly balanced performance. The supporting cast includes an unsatisfying portrayal of the couple upstairs by Rich Montgomery and especially Jennifer Richter, and a strange doubling by Joe Baker.

George Lucas' multi-level set, which must have been designed to accommodate the many different size stages for the production's Ireland tour, sits quite effectively on the Church Street stage. The lighting and sound designs seem a bit mechanical, however, as lights dim or shine and train sounds roll by and whistles whine abruptly on cue. The feeling that sounds and lights are in accordance with the cues in the script lessens any feeling that the action is taking place in the open cacophony that was New Orleans French Quarter, with swarming sounds of jazz, commerce and life. And, the choice of music seems way too formal, as if the jazz heard on Bourbon Street was the same as the dance bands of Manhattan.

Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Eric Lucas and Mark A. Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Shadia A. Hafiz (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini and Matt Rippetoe (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Lisa Shogren (stage manager). Cast: Carol Hood Baker, Joe Baker, Mike Kosemchak, Eric Lucas, Rich Montgomery, Mark A. Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea, Jennifer Richter, Kerry Walters.

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June 23 - July 30, 2005
The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Reviewed June 30
Running time 2:05 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for four strong performances of an emotionally charged play
Click here to buy the script

There aren't many plays out there as good a match for the aura and feel of Keegan Theatre as those of Martin McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy. The richness of the attachment to the land, the openness of the language, the fatalism that permeates the attitudes, and the intensity of love/hate relationships that the Keegan folk seem to cherish and which they are so good at replicating on this side of the Atlantic is the essence of these plays. Earlier this year Keegan's Artistic Director Mark A. Rhea teamed up with Artistic Associate Eric Lucas to appear in a production of another in the trilogy, The Lonesome West, under the auspices of SCENA theater. Now Rhea directs four Keegan veterans in the first of those three plays set in the small town of Connemara. On the basis of these two, one hopes that Keegan will add the third, A Skull in Connemara, to their schedule soon.

Storyline: In a cottage in the small town of Leenane in the west of Ireland, a grumpy elderly woman is tended by her forty-year-old spinster daughter who has all but given up on finding a mate, when one of the local men who have gone off to find work in England returns for a visit and shows an interest in her. The spiteful relationship between the women is exacerbated and even descends to ugly violence in the tug of war between the daughter's hopes and the mother's fears.

Leenane is a tiny village in County Galway, about as far west as you can get in Ireland. Now, as in the early 1960s when this play seems to be set, there just aren't many opportunities for young men and women, so most leave in the search for jobs. Those who remain have a fierce, if frequently unspoken, attachment to the place mixed with a fatalism and a lack of expectations that things will improve. Just keep on keeping on seems to be the rule. Linda High captures much of that, and the underlying anger and regret, with just her glances and her posture in her depiction of the mother who is either victim or victimizer  - or both. It is all there in the opening scene and it fascinates throughout the evening. Nanna Ingvarsson, on the other hand, lets her character's essence come into focus much more slowly, giving a hint here and a hint there which combine into a rich portrayal that has its own fascination.

While the relationship between the two women is the heart of the play, the impact of the local man briefly returned from London, and that of his younger brother, are the engine that move events along. Scott Graham, as the local man who went off to find success in London, layers the terse local attitudes with the energy of the big city so well that it is quite understandable how Ingvarsson's character would come under his spell, even if it weren't for the fact that she sees him as an unexpected last chance at a life of her own. His Act II opening monologue - a letter he composes to her - is a stand-alone gem of a scene which would make terrific audition material. A maturing Joe Baker, as his younger brother, turns in some of his best work for Keegan since Waiting for the Slow Dance.

As usual, George Lucas' finds the right look for the bleakness of the western Irish country in his set design. His single-room set has the feel of the poor rural life of the west of Ireland which sits comfortably in the exposed brick and rough hewn timber ambiance of the Church Street Theatre. It is complimented nicely by both Dan Martin's lighting and by Maggie Butler's just-right costumes. Only Eamon Coy's sound design seems out of place, using early 1960s top forty type tunes to cover strangely lengthy scene changes. The songs are appropriate for the time but they break the mood of the place.

Written by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Dan Martin (lights) Maggie Butler (costumes) Eamon Coy (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Lisa Shogren (stage manager). Cast: Joe Baker, Scott Graham, Linda High, Nanna Ingvarsson.

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May 5 - June 11, 2005
Side Man

Reviewed May 8
Running time 1:55 - one intermission
General admission seating at the Church Street Theatre
t A Potomac Stages Pick for moving performances and emotional impact
Click here to buy the script

Look back through reviews of Warren Leight's Tony Award-winning memory play and you will think it has always been a story of a jazz musician as told by his son, the stalwart who even at age ten could be "the man of the house" and try to rescue his mother who couldn't quite cope with the life of a musician's wife. The wife always seemed to exist only in her relationship to the males: man and boy. In this stunningly compelling production, the wife comes into her own, making the play something more than it was. It becomes a more fully formed family story with Amy McWilliams' performance elevating the role of the wife and mother to co-equal status with Kevin Adams' somewhat subdued work as her trumpet playing husband and Chris Stezin's smoothly modulated portrayal of the son/narrator through whose eyes all the events are seen.

Storyline: The thirty year old son of a sadly dysfunctional couple relates the tale of their marriage in a memory play of flashbacks blended with narration. The father is a jazz trumpeter whose life was the music he made as a side man in the big band era, a time and an occupation that has slipped away. He was one of what the son tells us were a band of men who "conquered their obsessions to the exclusion of everything else." His wife could not survive that exclusion with her mind and spirit in tact. She fell into abuse of her self through alcohol and tobacco, and of her family through violently spiteful behavior, moving between mental wards and their small apartment throughout the young boys' life.

McWilliams begins the evening as a raging maniac screaming insults at her son. How difficult must it be to then gain the audience's understanding and compassion for her character? She handles it through Leight's marvelous script, which, in director Leslie Kobylinski's balanced production, shows the weight of each burden that has cost her her sanity. Stezin carries the show through multiple levels of appreciation and understanding of the twin burdens of the two parents caught in a marriage without a common foundation or commitment. Kevin Adams doesn't quite pull off the required dramatic coup of displaying indifference and disinterest on one hand and absolute obsession on the other. The play has a famous second act scene in which the jazz musicians late in their career listen to a tape of the legendary last performance of Clifford Brown. The scene is famous for giving the actor playing the father the opportunity to show, without speaking a word, just how otherworldly his obsession can be as he is literally transported by music. Adams misses the mark, leaving the scene a sweet but slightly overlong one. Still, its the only miscue in Kobylinski's structure.

This is at least the second time that Kobylinski has directed this play. In 2001 she directed it at the Elden Street Players in Herndon. That production earner her her first Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) award. One skill she brings to each of her productions is a touch for casting. Of course, her reputation for giving her actors every opportunity to develop impressive performances helps her recruit just the right people for the roles, but she has an uncanny record of matching stage persona to character traits even when she's drawing from the pool of a company's regulars, as she is here. The smaller parts of the side man's side kicks are cases in point. Eric Lucas might not be an obvious choice for the role of the flippant observer Ziggy, but he is fascinating to watch as he takes the character from youthful confidence to a certain prideful old age. So, too, does Mark Rhea make the drug addicted Jonesy a person who changes with age and experience in a nicely restrained performance.

So many fine theater companies in the Potomac Region are doing exceptional work with constrained resources. The only real disappointments in this production come from technical elements that probably reflect more a limited budget than artistic failing. Dan Martin's lighting design does what is called for with its tight pools of light drawing attention to various points on the stage as memory flits from place to place and moment to moment. What may be a limitation on the number of lights he can use, however, leave gaps between the pools through which characters pass and hard shadows in the lit spaces. A similar technical gap may be a result of having only one location for speakers for the sound system. The sound of the on-stage source music still comes from the rear of the house where it is appropriate for other scenes involving off stage or remembered music. Still, the sound of the jazz trumpet solo at the back of the house makes Amy McWilliams' scene in the first act where she listens to her man making music on their first date tremendously effective.

Written by Warren Leight. Directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski. Design: Stefan M. Gibson (set) Grant Kevin Lane (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Ray Gniewek (photography) Rose Kobylinski and Donna Reynolds (stage managers). Cast: Charlotte Akin, Scott Graham, Eric Lucas, Mark Rhea, Chris Stezin, Amy McWilliams.

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February 17 - March 19, 2005
The Playboy of the Western World

Reviewed February 18
Running time 2:00 - one intermission
General admission seating
Performed at the Church Street Theatre
1742 Church Street NW

Click here to buy the script

Don't let the title fool you - in 1907 Irish playwright J. M. Synge was not writing about the kind of playboy for which Hugh Hefner named his magazine. There are no Playboy Bunnies frolicking in a hot tub in this tale of life among the poor rural inhabitants of an Ireland still reeling half a century after the potato famine. No, here the term is a double entendre combining "the boy of the game" of the Irish sport of hurling with the concept of, in dramaturg Trudi Olivetti's phrase, "a young man who plays games with those around him." In this case, the fate of a young man hangs in the balance as the population first champions him and then turns on him. Here the beauty of the Irish brogue and the earthiness of life in the poverty stricken west of a poverty plagued Ireland is the topic of interest.

Storyline: A young man stumbles into a tiny pub in rural western Ireland at the turn of the last century claiming to have killed his abusive father. The townspeople protect him and he becomes something of a celebrity until his father shows up, not having died from his son's blow to the head. The townspeople then turn on the boy.

Director Mark Rhea opens this version of Synge's most famous play with Mark Adams as Synge himself on stage addressing the audience with words from his preface to the play. He affirms his effort to accurately capture the sound of the way the Irish actually spoke. "I have used one or two words only that I have not heard among the country people of Ireland" he says. Rhea's cast deliver that language in a thick brogue that makes the patterns of the words approach a musical quality, but it often requires intense concentration to convert that music to meaning. The plot comes through but many of the nuances of character and much of the humor is subordinated to a reverence for the language. The production offers energetic performances by Carlos Bustamante and Kevin Adams and a wonderfully evocative set designed by George Lucas.

Synge titled his work "a comedy in three acts." It is certainly not meant as a farce, sketch comedy or a comedy of manners. But it has elements of humor darkened by a particular Irish sentimentality. For example, as pleasing as the musical meter of the exchange about just how the young man killed his father might be, it is clearly intended to draw laughs: "you shot him dead?" / "I never used weapons.  I've no license, and I'm a law-fearing man." / "It was with a hilted knife maybe?  I'm told, in the big world it's bloody knives they use." / "Do you take me for a slaughter-boy?" / "You never hanged him ...? " / "I did not then.  I just riz the loy and let fall the edge of it on the ridge of his skull ... "

Bustamante delivers these lines with appropriate earnestness and there is some real romantic chemistry between him and Helen Pafumi as the innkeeper's daughter. There are some fine comic moments involving Chuck Whalen as her father and his pals, including Mark Adams who leaves the Synge character of the preface to join in the main story. The energy level of the show ratchets up a notch whenever Kevin Adams takes the stage as the father Bustamante supposedly dispatched.

Written by J. M. Synge. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: George Lucas (set) Maggie Butler and Shadia Hafiz (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) John Glick (music) Ray Gniewek (photography) Eamon Coy (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Mark Adams, Maggie Bush, Carlos Bustamante, Gianna D'Emilio, Mike Kozemchak, Helen Pafumi, John Porter, Jennifer Richter, Emily Riehl-Bedford, Chuck Whalen.

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November 18 - December 19, 2004
True West

Reviewed November 20
Running time 2:05 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a knock down,
drag out good time
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There are two ways to treat Sam Shepard's script. Keegan has chosen the better, more enjoyable but just as absorbing approach than the one frequently taken. Director Susan Marie Rhea has her two excellent lead actors play the piece with an eye for the humor in it rather than a concentration on the violence inherent in this portrait of brotherly suspicion, competition and jealousy. Her way is better! All the validity of the characterizations in Shepard's script come through, highlighted by the quirky comments and highlighting the rich detail Shepard included in the text. It moves rapidly past the weaknesses of sloppy plotting and contrived events that the piece contains. As a result, the flow is immeasurably improved, the logic of the progression of the story works and the relationship between the two brothers is not just the centerpiece, but becomes nearly the entire piece. With Mark Rhea and Eric Lucas playing the brothers, that is precisely where the focus should be.

Storyline: Two brothers, one a screenwriter on the brink of what he hopes will be a breakthrough assignment, and the other a drifter with a story idea for a movie, are holed up in their Mother’s house east of Los Angeles while she’s on a trip to Alaska. Their task is to write a screenplay based on the drifter’s story but their egos, passions, old psychic injuries and shared history have them at each other’s throats. Will one kill the other before the script is completed?

Keegan inaugurates their theater-in-residence status at the Old Town Theater in Alexandria with this violently funny play of two brothers which they toured throughout Ireland earlier this fall. With performances in nine different theaters with stages of different dimensions accommodated by Stefan M. Gibson's flexible set, Rhea and Lucas had the opportunity to explore their roles in many different configurations. The piece is now mounted on the shallow stage of the Old Town with an additional apron extending into the audience where much of the competition takes place. This gives audiences a very close view of the action. Tony Angelini's soundscape adds to the feeling of immediacy with his crickets, coyote calls and the required touch of Willie Nelson music.

Mark Rhea is the drifter, a slob with an extraordinary sense of entitlement who makes his money as a burglar ("They don't need their televisions - I'm doing them a favor") and sees the entire world in terms of what is in it for him. He's funny from the git-go, earning honest laughs from silences as well as from the lines Shepard wrote. He's funny because he's true and consistent. As he sees an opportunity for profit, he moves on it with a feral force that is fearsome. Eric Lucas, as the writer whose hopeful veneer hides deep fears of failure, takes his character through more change than does Rhea. It is, after all, his world that is being destroyed before his eyes. He descends from a certain prim self control into drunken denial in measured stages that carry the audience along with him. The two of them work together with a generous cooperation that is a reflection of their long collaboration as the two founding members of Keegan Theatre.

The smaller roles are competently played by Kevin Adams as the producer who each brother sees as a potential patron offering the riches of Hollywood, and Carol Baker as the mother who returns from her vacation to find her home has been turned into a grown-up (but not mature) version of the play-pen where these siblings rivaled decades before. Neither part has the potential to distract the audience's attention from the fight in the center ring, however, and it is that struggle between Rhea and Lucas - with all its inventiveness, all its flamboyance and all its humor - that is so fun to watch.

Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Susan Marie Rhea. Design: Stefan M. Gibson (set) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Eamon Coy (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Carol Baker, Eric Lucas, Mark Rhea.

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 August 12 - September 11, 2004

Reviewed August 14
Running time 1:20 - no intermission
Produced in association with Fountainhead Theatre
t A Potomac Stages Pick for intimate intense acting

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Apparently director Sarah Denhardt isn't phased by the reputation of Harold Pinter or of his 1978 play. She has her cast approach the piece as if it were fresh out of an unknown's typewriter. This challenging short piece can begin to feel academic if a director and the principal cast spend too much energy on its structural peculiarities, turning them into an scholarly exercise. Not so here. Denhardt keeps the focus on the story of the three principal characters, their relationships and their motivations. As a result, the audience keeps its attention there as well. The three principal characters may not be people you would want to add to your inner circle of good friends, but each comes to life in fascinating, believable performances which are a pleasure to watch from afar.

Storyline: Nine short scenes zigzag backward in chronology to reveal the history of an extramarital affair and its impact on a marriage and on the husband, the wife and the wife’s lover who has been the husband’s best friend. Starting with the breakup and ending with the meeting, the retrogression is fascinating even if the lack of a "tag" at what should be the ending, but is actually the beginning, means it ends with a whimper, not a bang.

Pinter is certainly not the first playwright to attempt a reverse order play. The concept has fascinated writers practically since the dawn of drama writing, think of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex in which the king's history is slowly revealed. The old standby flash back is a kind of reverse order technique. More rigorous time reversals can also be found. More recently, consider Kaufman and Hart's Merrily We Roll Along which George Furth and Stephen Sondheim turned into a musical that starts at the end and works back to the beginning.

The principals here are Fountainhead's Charlotte Akin and Jim Jorgensen, joined by familiar local actor Dan Via. Jorgensen has such expressive eyes, and he knows just how to use them as tools in communicating his character's inner thoughts to an audience. He's at his best in an intimate house such as this one, where every shift of focus or fleeting glance registers. As the cuckold of this triangle, his eyes tell volumes about just what his character knows and when he knows it. Akin gets the weight of guilt across more clearly than the excitement of the early stages of the affair (which, of course, come later in the play.) Via has a nice flippancy about his demeanor that works well and manages to indicate his character's own confusion over just how much the husband knows at each stage of the affair.

Lea Umberger's set of interlocking platforms allows swift transitions from locations - the restaurant where the lovers reunite, the flat they rented for their affair, the living room in the married couple's home. Behind it all is a screen on which are projected a series of photographs of the cast which capture their attitudes and feelings over the course of the affair, as well as slides giving the time and location of each scene ("The Flat, Winter 1975".) Unfortunately, the images are so dim that they are distracting without enhancing the overall experience of the play.

Written by Harold Pinter. Directed by Sarah Denhardt. Design: Lea Umberger (set and costumes) Jessie Crain (lights) Robert Timothy Jarbadan (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Jessica Timmins (stage manager). Cast: Charlotte Akin, Bryan Davis, Jim Jorgensen, Dan Via. 

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June 10 - July 8, 2004
Tattoo Sky

Reviewed June 14
Running time 2:05 - two intermissions
Playing at the Clark Street Playhouse

Eric Lucas - yes the same Eric Lucas appearing in the other play in this two-play repertory - directs this world premiere of his own play, an exercise in the genre usually attributed to Sam Shepard. Shepard's elements of Western-Americana, his assemblage of literate characters incapable of meaningful interpersonal communication and his tone of laconic fatalism permeate this play and this production. Also switching functions is Mark Rhea - the same Mark Rhea who directed the other play in this two-play repertory - who plays the lead role in this one. He's joined here by his wife, Susan Marie Rhea, and frequent Keegan Theatre cast member Kevin Adams in this three-person play.

Storyline: Ray and Meg are getting on each others nerves, holed up in a ranch house in the Nevada desert. He's banged up with an arm in a sling but the sling is a fine place to hoard a few brewskis. She's bored beyond endurance and pulls a suitcase out from under the bed from time to time just to gaze at its contents . . . a fortune in small bills. Into their sphere comes Taylor, a smooth talking hit man who seems to be in the employ of the people from whom Ray and Meg stole the money. Taylor is there to recover the goods and he's more than willing to use techniques of torture to get it. In fact, he prides himself on the skill with which he can inflict pain.

Lucas' script seems to play a number of time-related tricks on the audience, making it difficult to figure out just what happened before or after what. His direction doesn't offer much help to audience members trying to decipher the puzzle, although it does appear that Dan Martin's lighting shifts are intended to provide some clues. Still, just what transpires in the early segments between Meg and Ray is difficult to grasp. Without that key, the events when Taylor is added to the mix are fascinating because of the performances, but puzzling nonetheless.

The performances of the three are all strong and highly idiosyncratic. Mark Rhea is as swaggering and smoldering as he often is. Here he's very much like his performance in Sam Shepard's Fool For Love four years ago. Susan Rhea is also giving a Western-Americana swagger reminiscent of earlier performances, specifically her full-blooded Kate from their western take on The Taming of the Shrew three years ago. Adams, on the other hand, reveals aspects we've not seen before as he plays a game of cat and mouse with Ray and Meg.

Lucas' script plays word games from beginning to end with light and humorous excursions on the meaning of "myopia" in the early going and poetic ruminations on the Aurora Borealis in the final act. His text reaches for sonority ("the ocean makes sounds like music aught to") as well as descriptive clarity (a blue fin tuna brought to the deck of a boat is "700 pounds of pain in a ten foot space").  Such eloquence would be more satisfying in a story that was a bit easier to follow.

Written and directed by Eric Lucas. Design: Stefan M. Gibson (set) Dan Martin (lights) Tony Angelini (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Jessica Timmins (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Mark Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea.

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June 3 - July 10, 2004
An Island Of No Land At All - The Story of O'Malley of Shanganagh

Reviewed June 6
Running time 2:50 - one intermission
Playing at the Clark Street Playhouse
t A Potomac Stages Pick for absorbing atmospheric theater

The world premiere of Peter Coy's challenging mixture of memory, sorrow, hope and the indomitable spirit of the Irish asks a lot of its audience, but it rewards close attention with much food for thought and the not insignificant pleasures of watching terrific performances from the trio of leading actors. Director Mark A. Rhea capitalizes on and enhances the script's rich texture from the opening moments with a combination of scenic design elements and purposeful seriousness to the blocking of the early scenes and maintains that feeling of substance through to the very end.

Storyline: After a youthful period of wanderlust, a man returns to his native Ireland to find a home outside of Dublin that he knew as a youth is now an Anglican convent. He falls in love with a novice and draws her out of her vocation before her final vows and marries her himself. They honeymoon in London, Paris, Monte Carlo and Venice, but when they return home their union isn't accepted by the people of their community. Over time she withers before his eyes which he assumes is a result of their rejection by local society but she really has other secrets.

You won't figure out what is going on in this play very early. Indeed, you will probably still be debating how the pieces fit as you travel home after the show. But connecting the dots is one of the pleasures of the piece. There are hints and clues galore and some of them don't fit together the way you first think that they do. Causing you to adjust your own theory of events throughout the evening is one of the ways Coy keeps interest high. He also provides a group of highly defined characters and a richness of language that is particularly Irish. Much of that language reflects Coy's inspiration for the piece, the works of Donn Byrne, Irish poet, novelist, patriot and nationalist whose style, at least in his saga Raftery has been described as "prose breaking off into musical verse now and then." That description applies to Coy's script as well.

A trio of lovely performances in the three major roles captures the rhythms of the poetry as well as the plot. Eric Lucas' transition from proud, confident youth to a disappointed, dissipated shell of his former self progresses in nearly imperceptible increments. Ghillian Porter slowly succumbs to the twin effects of guilt and holding secrets bottled up inside with such subtle shifts that she seems at times to be physically disintegrating. Brian Hemmingsen's enigmatic character is a fascinating mystery from first to last. Together, the three of them create a core for the play that is as solid as Coy or Byrne's language is lovely.

Rhea cycles the rest of the cast through the upstage bar which is frequently dimly lit but always present as if to signal that the story could be one that might be told over a few whiskeys in a rural Irish bar. That cast includes standouts Daniel Lyons who delivers the first parts of the storyline and Jon Townson who gives the show its first overtly romantic moment and then signals the switch from love-story to something else.

Written by Peter Coy based on the works of Donn Byrne. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: Stefan M. Gibson (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Matt Rippetoe (sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Eamon Coy (stage manager). Cast: Carol Baker, Maggie Bush, Les Garrison, Brian Hemmingsen, Eric Lucas, Daniel Lyons, Ghillian Porter, Jennifer Richter, Jon Townson.

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February 19 - March 27, 2004
The Crucible

Reviewed February 21
Running time 2 hours 55 minutes

Arthur Miller's polemic on mass hysteria, conformity and official repression requires a fine touch from a director to insert a bit of contrast and variation, lest the just under three-hour performance suffer from an exhausting uniformity of high dudgeon. This production, under Susan Marie Rhea's direction, doesn't get that touch of contrast until after intermission. The first act starts at a high level of emotionalism and never seems to take a breath. By the time Brian Hemmingsen makes his entrance at the start of the second act and introduces a bit of variation in tone, it is almost too late. But his performance is strong enough to captivate and makes the evening a worthwhile effort

Storyline: Arthur Miller's drama uses the historical record of the hysteria that resulted in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 to explore issues that were very much on his mind when it was written in 1953. This was the height of the hysteria over allegations of communist infiltration with the Army-McCarthy Hearings in the Senate, the Alger Hiss Case being investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, artists from Broadway to Hollywood being subpoenaed to testify about the activities of their colleagues, and Hollywood blacklisting suspected "reds."

The central pair of the play is played by Mark Rhea and Lee Mikeska Gardner. Rhea begins his performance at the high level pitch which leaves him little room to show an escalating sense of panic, while Gardner comes in later in the play and has more leeway to moderate her performance. By the end, both are at a fever pitch as they should be, but what went before sets up Gardner's anguish much more effectively than Rhea's. Fine performances are provided by Ghillian Porter as the ring-leader of the girls, Eric Lucas as the Reverend tormented by his duty to investigate the charges of witchcraft, and Richard Mancini as a husband who naively incriminates his wife and lives to regret it.

Hemmingsen is a breath of fresh air when he takes over the proceedings in the role of the judge presiding over the trials. He varies his performance from the gentle cajolery of a young girl whose testimony he tenderly draws from her to the terrifying badgering of other witnesses he tries to frighten them into confessing, and from a haughty authoritarianism to a friendly neighborly attitude, and he makes the transitions in a blink.

Stefan Gibson has designed a handsome set which has two main configurations. During intermission most of the cast is on stage shifting it from the interior of colonial houses to the interior of the meeting house used as a courtroom. The production benefits from an original score of incidental music composed by Matt Rippetoe.

Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Susan Marie Rhea. Design: Stefan M. Gibson (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Ray Gniewek (photography) Kimberly Moeller (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, David Cleverly, Brandilyn Dunn, Lee Mikeska Gardner, Les Garrison, Brian Hemmingsen, Paige Hernandez, Mike Kozemchak, Eric Lucas, Emilia Lugn, Timothy Hayes Lynch, Daniel Lyons, Richard Mancini, Peggy McGrath, Jane Petkofsky, Ghillian Porter, Emily Riehl-Bedford, Mark Rhea, Mia Smith, Alia Faith Williams, Abby Wood.

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November 6 - December 13, 2003
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Reviewed November 8
Running time 3 hours 5 minutes
Playing in rep with Fountainhead's Delicate Balance at the Clark Street Playhouse
Potomac Stages Pick

It takes a lot of talent to make an audience care for shallow, ugly, mean and despicable people. Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning script provides plenty of material to make an audience want to know what makes these people tick, and the intellectual exercise of putting together the clues to the histories of these characters can fill any evening. But the magic at work in director Lee Mikeska Gardner’s mounting of Albee’s 1962 classic is to make you care for and not just about these pain-ridden people.

Storyline: An English professor at a small New England college and his wife, the daughter of the college’s president, return from a faculty party. He is displeased to learn that she has invited a new young professor and his wife back for after-party drinks. After all, it is 2 a.m.  They bicker and fight, inflicting pain and suffering as if that was the only way they can make any kind of personal connection with each other.

Rarely has a play depended so completely on the “back stories” of the main characters, the things that happened to them before the curtain comes up, the things that may be eluded to in the text but are never really spelled out. The secret of Mikeska Gardner’s success with this production is that the things that turned this couple sour are visible just under the surface so that audiences can understand that “Martha” and “George” were once bright, hopeful, promising people -- a couple you would have wanted to invite you over for an after-event drink. As a result, it isn’t the dark, pessimistic, burned out people up there on that stage that fascinate, but the people they once were and the reasons they turned out as they did.

Keegan regulars know the depth of the work of both Mark Rhea whose “George” is a smoldering pot of resentment and Linda High whose searing “Martha” has reached the end of her rope. The text says that the failing professor is six years younger than his dissatisfied wife. The disparity between Mark Rhea and Linda High’s apparent ages match the text and it gives a poignancy to their relationship that has been missing in some local productions of the piece although it was present in the originals on Broadway (Uta Hagen was three years older than Arthur Hill but looked more) and on film (Elizabeth Taylor was seven years older than Richard Burton.)

The young couple here is Carlos Bustamente and Susan Marie Rhea, newly married to Mark Rhea, who has performed with Keegan many times as Susan Grevengoed. In Bustamente’s hands, the young man can be seen as a version of “George” just after marrying his “Martha.” And in his reactions to his hosts can be seen the first glimmer of concern that his own future might not turn out too different from their present. Mrs. Rhea makes the most of a character that has the least depth to it as written, also offering a hint at where “Martha” was when she was first married to a promising professor. 

Written by Edward Albee. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Design: Faz Besharatian (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Ray Gniewek (photography) Ann Fleming (stage manager). Cast: Carlos Bustamente, Linda High, Mark Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea.

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June 26 – July 27, 2003
Romeo and Juliet

Reviewed July 3
Performed at the Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, 1500 North Glebe Road, Arlington
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes

The strength of this production of Shakespeare’s classic tale of star crossed lovers lies just where it should - - in the pair of performers in the title roles, both of whom are making their American theater debut after being “discovered” by Keegan’s artistic team during last year’s tour of Ireland with The Glass Menagerie. The casting of Matthew Keenan and Sarah Dillon, as well as the work of local regular Jon Townson are the best things about this otherwise uneven production of Romeo and Juliet that takes place in Belfast instead of “fair Verona.”

Storyline: Romeo, the scion of the powerful Montegu family, falls heads over heals in love with Juliet, the eligible daughter of his family’s arch rivals, the Capulets. Disregarding the passions of the feud for the passions of the heart, the couple plan a secret wedding but things go wrong as a battle breaks out between the younger generation of the feuding families ending in death and banishment. A ruse to avoid being separated also goes terribly wrong as romance turns to tragedy.

The announcement of this production made much of the idea that it was an adaptation setting the story in Ireland in 1919 but this is still Shakespeare’s play. We’ve seen many stagings of Shakespeare’s work on sets and in costumes that imply a different time or place than the original (Much Ado About Nothing on a tennis court in Edwardian England, The Taming of the Shrew in the American old west, Richard III with Nazi banners) so the addition of Irish brogue and early twentieth century costuming is not revolutionary. The “adaptation” by Keegan’s Eric Lucas doesn’t change a lot in the Bard’s famous play although it does try to streamline it a bit, including the merger of  Act II’s scene outside the Capulet orchard with the much more famous scene that follows it, the balcony scene. To be really effective as an adaptation instead of just a staging concept, a few details would have to be resolved that simply aren’t, such as why the same priest is ministering to both the Catholic and the Protestant lovers.

The two memorable new faces introduced in this production belong to two recent graduates of the Gaiety School of Acting of Dublin. Each brings a fresh youthful vitality to parts that are often played older than the story allows. Their teen-age passion is palpable and there is a chemistry between them that is an important factor in any team portraying these lovers. His early impetuousness and her second act anguish are impressive. Their Irish brogues sat easily on Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter while most of the rest of the cast either concentrated on sounding Irish to the expense of the poetry or concentrated on the lines at the expense of the accent. Neither William Aitken as Juliet’s father, nor Steve McWilliams as Romeo’s, seemed able to act and sound Irish at the same time. Linda High, on the other hand, made a marvelous nurse that straddled the ages between Elizabethan England and Edwardian Ireland.         

The production benefits as well from the talents of Jon Townson in the role of the priest, here called Father instead of Friar Laurence. He takes a fresh look at a part that has frequently been approached as a bumbling old fool of a do-gooder. His youthful approach is more a Bing Crosby-ish parish priest out of “Going My Way” with a touch of Barry Fitzgerald as softening agent. Townson was less successful handling the fight choreography which varied at least in execution from awkward to acceptable.

Written by William Shakespeare. Adaptation by Eric Lucas. Directed by Mark A. Rhea and Eric Lucas. Fight Choreography by Jon Townson. Dialect coaching by Linda Murray. Design: Mark A. Rhea (set) Jenny Gibson (costumes) Dan Martin (light and sound) Ray Gniewek (photography) Jessica Timmins (stage manager). Cast: William Aitken, Joe Baker, Justin Davey, Sarah Dillon, Ann Fleming, Andres Garcia, Laura Herren, Sheri S. Herren, Linda High, JJ Johnston, Matthew Keenan, Steve McWilliams, Pamela Ricker, Samantha Sheahan or Alexandra Staeben, Mia Smith or Ashby Moncure Williams, Jon Townson, Rob Welsh.

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May 6 – June 15, 2003
A Lie of the Mind

Reviewed May 10
Running time 2 hours 55 minutes
Playing at the Clark Street Playhouse

Joint Production with Fountainhead Theatre
Price: $25 for both shows
Potomac Stages Pick

The first half of their two-show “Shepard Project” is a searingly effective presentation of Sam Shepard’s 1985 dissection of the impact of one dysfunctional family on another. Words, fists, images and ideas fly so rapidly and yet with such clarity in director Eric Lucas’ razor sharp staging that the play seems almost short even as it approaches the third hour. But, then, when it first played New York under Shepard’s own direction, it ran four hours. Lucas picks up time by not bogging the play down under musical excursions. The original had its own country-sounding band while this production relies on Patsy Cline recordings. It works this way. Wow, does it work.

Storyline: Jake thinks his wife abuse has finally reached its logical conclusion and that his wife Beth has died of his latest beating. His brother gets him home to the tender care of his mother who is still in denial about every shortcoming in Jake as she compensates for the tragedy that was her marriage to his father. In the meantime, Beth has survived and is nursed back to health by her brother who gets her out of the hospital and back to the home of their parents - their mother driven just a bit ditsy by her life with their self-centered, psychologically abusive father.

From the storyline above it must be difficult for the readers to believe they would enjoy three hours in the presence of these people. But Shepard’s skill at creating fascinatingly flawed flesh and blood people whose humanity can still be glimpsed through layers of hurt and hate, and whose striking out comes from some deep well of pain and frustration, is such that each of the eight characters is an interesting individual and their interaction is consistently compelling.

Keegan and Fountainhead both bring the strengths of their co-production but clearly this first installment of “The Shepard Project” bears the Keegan stamp. In addition to Keegan co-founder Eric Lucas as director, the other co-founder and Artistic Director, Mark Rhea, plays Jake with a ferocity frequently hinted at in his previous performances but never quite let loose in this fashion before. He owns the first act, which is the only act that is really about Jake. Linda High, who was so memorable in Keegan’s The Glass Menagerie on tour last summer in Ireland and then reprised here in the fall, is nearly as good in the smaller role of Jake’s Mother, especially in the second act. In the final act it is Kevin Adams in his forth Keegan appearance who captures the imagination with a horrendous but compelling characterization of Beth’s Dad for whom a battered daughter is almost as disturbing a development as is the arrival of the last day of deer season without a buck to his credit.

Through it all there are rock-solid performances of a superb cast. There is Chris Stezin as Jake’s brother, the only actually functional character in the lot, although Charlotte Akin’s portrait of Jake’s sister is of a character on the verge of functionality who may well be able to strike out on her own and escape the cycle of abuse. Jim Jorgensen is Beth’s brother whose own problems only surface after he has taken care of hers during her crisis, and Susan Grevengoed is as painful to watch as she should be as the battered Beth. Peggy McGrath succeeds in the humor of the ditsyness that Beth’s mother uses as a shield against psychological abuse without turning her into a one-dimensional joke. That all of these performances of all of these unbalanced characters blend into a well balanced whole is a tribute to the work of the director as well as to the strength of the script.

Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Eric Lucas. Design: Mark A. Rhea (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Daniel Lyons (makeup) Dan Martin (lights) Faz Besharatian (scenic artist) Ray Gniewek (photography) Ann Fleming (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Charlotte Akin, Susan Grevengoed, Linda High, Jim Jorgensen, Peggy McGrath, Mark Rhea, Chris Stezin.

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May 13 – June 14, 2003
Buried Child

Reviewed May 17
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes
Playing at the Clark Street Playhouse

Joint Production with Fountainhead Theatre
Price: $25 for both shows

The second half of the two show package of Sam Shepard plays is this Pulitzer Prize winning tragi-comedy or comic-tragedy that, under Keith Bridges’ direction, delivers laughs, shocks and punch, in approximately that order. What starts out as an almost lighthearted routine involving a screamed conversation between an on-stage man and his off-stage wife descends into that uniquely demented world of dysfunctional misfits that only Shepard can create.

Storyline: A seemingly normal young man brings his girlfriend to meet his grandparents after having been out of touch for years. But his grandfather doesn’t seem to remember him, his grandmother is off gallivanting around with a preacher man, his father seems to have come home completely burned out by some unspeakable secrets in his life and his uncle is terrorizing the household until they take away his artificial leg. The girlfriend begins to unravel the secrets the family has kept hidden from the outside world.

 As with many of Shepard’s plays, this one pushes the envelope of the surreal but does so with a construction that establishes a strong sense of realism before veering off into the bizarre. Keith Bridges' staging is highly visual, using the lighting of Dan Martin in ways that direct attention as well as establish mood, and he brings out all of the humor as well as the weirdness of the characters. However, the secrets underlying the problems of Shepard’s characters in this mysteriously plotted piece aren’t resolved with the clarity that Eric Lucas was able to bring to the other show in The Shepard Project, A Lie of the Mind (see above). Post show conversations may concentrate on “what the heck was ___ about” rather than “oh, that’s what ____ was all about.” It leaves you sated but strangely unsatisfied.

There are performances to savor in this production. Jim Jorgensen sits on stage throughout and is alternately funny and fascinating, always contributing to the scene but never stealing it unless it is about his character. Charlotte Akin carries her role from the flighty and slightly giddy woman trying to get out of the house for a rendezvous with the preacher to dominating matriarch who is a terror when she loses her temper. Eric Lucas gives gripping portraits of the two sides of his character, a monster tormenting his victims (who happen to be his family) until deflated, and then becoming the whimpering weakling everyone believes is actually inside a bully. Mark Rhea, on the other hand, establishes a haunting presence as the son who has already undergone all the personality changes that shaped him, leaving a burnt out shell. Susan Grevengoed is, as always, a pleasure to watch creating a distinctive personality, but either Bridges or Shepard have her making shifts that seem artificial - how is it that this fearful stranger is all of a sudden fixing soup for Grandpa?

About “The Shepard Project” -- Buried Child is playing in repertory with A Lie of the Mind. Admission is on a single $25 ticket for both shows. If you only have time for one, attend A Lie of the Mind -- but don’t throw away your ticket as it may well whet your appetite for the unique pleasures of a Sam Shepard play and you can use it to go back and catch Buried Child. It will be worth the return!

Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Keith Bridges.  Design: Mark A. Rhea (set) Maggie Butler (costumes) Daniel Lyons (makeup) Dan Martin (lights) Faz Besharatian (scenic artist) Ray Gniewek (photography) Jennifer Richter (stage manager). Cast: Kevin Adams, Charlotte Akin, Susan Grevengoed, Jim Jorgensen, Eric Lucas, Mark Rhea, Chris Stezin.

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January 16 - February 22, 2003
The Hostage

Reviewed January 18
Running time 3 hours

After World War II, as the world caught its collective breath from the near Armageddon, art as well as politics was undergoing reexamination and experimention with change. Some of the changes stuck – some did not. At the time no one knew where music was going – Rock and Roll? Elvis? Progressive Jazz? Beatnick Word-Talk?  No one knew where politics was going – Cold War? Superpower hegemony? Anti-Imperialism? Local Determination? The age of uncertainty extended to theater where the rules of formal structure seemed at once reinforced (look at the golden age of the American Musical) and fractured. Irish new-wave writer Brendan Behan’s The Hostage is an example of the uncertainties of both the arts and the politics of its time. The Hostage was as anti-establishment theater as it was anti-establishment politics. The Keegan Theatre, with its fascination for all things Irish, revives the piece, preserving all of its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

Storyline: In Dublin in 1958 a strange collection of under-class Irish folk live under one roof. There’s the pub-operator; the cheap whore and her customer, a Russian sailor; the homosexual whore and his customer, a cynical pianist, the former Irish Republican Army officer still blowing his pipes. The IRA has captured an English soldier and holds him hostage in this house, threatening to execute him if the English go through with their plan to execute an IRA prisoner.

Behan’s play is performed with two intermissions separating the three sections which aren’t exactly three acts. Behan’s effort to avoid the strictures of structure kept him from traditional labeling. The first section is essentially an extended introduction to the characters and their types with a great deal of attention to creating the atmosphere of the place. The second introduces the hostage, a young man who only slowly understands the peril he is in. The third carries the story, such as it is, to its conclusion. All of this takes place at a leisurely pace with little dramatic or comedic force to move it along. As a result, it can seem nearly interminable.

The characters are all quirky and colorful and the large cast that Keegan has assembled features strong performances highlighting the very oddity Behan envisioned. Strongest among them is David Jourdan as the song-singing leader of the pack who serves as sort of an anti-establishmentarian master of ceremonies with a guitar, a bottle or three of beer and a ready song. Josh Barrett gives the most traditionally structured performance in the strongest part Behan wrote, that of the hostage of the title. There is a lot of singing and a bit of dancing in this show, although choreographer Laurie Gilkenson takes pains to keep the dancing from looking like it is formally organized. 

Director Mark A. Rhea seems to have given each member of the cast the freedom to create their own take on their character while imposing enough discipline to mesh them together into a single strange society. Given Behan’s aversion to structure, this is no mean trick.

Written by Brendan Behan. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Music direction by David Jourdan. Choreography by Laurie Gilkenson. Design: Faz Besharatian (set) Amber L. Hayes (costumes) Dan Martin (lights). Cast: David Jourdan, Josh Barrett, Sarah Ecton, Susan Grevengoed, Nanna Ingvarsson, Charlotte Akin, Sally Cusenza, Scott Sophos, Tyee Tilghman, Jennifer Richter, Mike Kozemchak, Kevin Adams, Richard Mancini, Helen Pafumi, William Aitken, Les Garrison.

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October 17 – November 17, 2002
The Glass Menagerie

Reviewed October 17
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes
Potomac Stages Pick

Keegan brings its production of Tennessee Williams’ first major success, the 1945 self described "memory play" to the Clark Street Playhouse after touring it through Ireland where it was well received by audiences in five different theaters from Galway to Dublin and from Kilkenney to Donegal. That it does just as well before American audiences is testimony to both the quality of the script, dealing as it does with some universal themes, as well as the performances. Under Brian Hemmingsen’s sensitively simple staging, the four actors deliver distinctive portrayals that meld into a satisfying ensemble effect.

Storyline: In post-World War II St. Louis, a family of three lives a precarious existence both financially and emotionally. The mother lives in her memories of better days before her husband abandoned her and failed even to send financial support. Her son, who is a frustrated writer in the mold of Williams, is living for the adventure he can only experience at the movies while his days are consumed by the drudgery of a laborer’s job at a dingy warehouse. Her daughter, crippled both physically and emotionally, only seems to care about her collection of glass figurines. When the son invites an acquaintance from work home for dinner his mother treats the event as if the guest is her daughter’s first "gentleman caller," but the evening is a disaster that breaks the already strained bonds between mother, son and daughter.

This production finds just the right mixture of realism and romanticism with an emphasis on the poetry of both Williams’ language and imagery. Hemmingsen establishes a leisurely flow for the scenes that allows the beauty of Williams’ language and the emergence of his emotionally charged plot points to breathe like a fine wine. He resists the temptation to reveal too much too soon. This emphasis on imagery is aided by a set featuring symbols and icons scattered around pieces of realistic scenery.

Each of the cast of four has a time to shine but one, Linda High as the mother, shines all night long. The text gives her the deepest, most complex and best developed character of all and she takes every advantage of it. She is alternately charming, pitiable and infuriating, but through it all she is a human being with realistic limitations and thoroughly understandable inadequacies. Mark Rhea feels a bit wooden to start as the narrating son but it soon is clear that this sets off the narration from the action scenes and he lets loose in them. Susan Grevengoed’s performance has grown since the Ireland run, especially in the first act where she also holds back a bit in order to create the greatest contrast possible when the text allows her character to emerge from her imaginary world for a brief shining moment only to be dashed by unexpected reality. Her moment looking at herself in a mirror, reacting both to her image and to her mother’s pronouncement that she will never be prettier than at this moment (what a terrible thing for a parent to say!) takes her from annoyance to pleasure to horror in marvelously subtle shifts. Jon Townsend isn’t given the luxury of building a character over multiple acts. He appears only in the final scene but creates a believable, understandable character in the short time allowed.

There is a distinctly Irish sensibility in the work of Tennessee Williams which is all the stronger in his semi-autobiographical pieces like this one. After all, the father who all but abandoned young Tennessee’s mother, her frustrated writer son and crippled daughter went by the name Cornelius Williams. Back from a month of performing this, his most openly autobiographical piece before an Irish audience, that link seems even stronger. When the mother asks if their guest drinks, her son says he doesn’t think so. When she discovers that both his middle and last names are Irish she declaims "Irish on both sides and he doesn’t drink?" as if it is an impossible combination. Audiences in Dublin laughed heartily at that incredulity. Back in front of an American audience, the cast still has some of the touches that worked well in an Irish house and they work well here too. And they give the piece an added richness.

Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Brian Emmingsen. Design: Richard Mancini (set) Amber Hayes (costumes) Matt Rippetoe (sound and music) Dan Martin (lights). Cast: Linda High, Mark Rhea, Susan Grevengoed, Jon Townson.

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August 26 - September 21
The Glass Menagerie

Reviewed September 7 at Civic Theatre
 Dublin, Ireland
Running Time 2 hours 40 minutes

The bond between the Arlington-based Keegan Theatre and all things Irish seems to be a living, growing thing. Since its founding, ten years ago, the company has had in its charter the goal of bringing quality Irish plays to our shores. Five years ago it began taking quality American plays to Ireland. It became the first American theater company to tour the west of Ireland and this year it is spending nearly a month touring both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with this production, playing in five theaters from Dublin to Galway to Donegal. Potomac audiences will have a chance to see the production in October and November.

Storyline: In post-World War II St. Louis, a family of three lives a precarious existence both financially and emotionally. The mother lives in her memories of better days before her husband abandoned her and failed even to send financial support. Her son, who narrates this "memory play" and is a frustrated writer in the mold of Williams, is living for the adventure he can only experience at the movies while his days are consumed by the drudgery of a laborer’s job at a dingy warehouse. Her daughter, crippled both physically and emotionally, only seems to care about her collection of glass figurines. When the son invites an acquaintance from work home for dinner his mother treats the event as if the guest is her daughter’s first "gentleman caller," but the evening is a disaster that breaks the already strained bonds between mother, son and daughter.

This production finds just the right mixture of realism and romanticism with an emphasis on the poetry of both Williams’ language and imagery. Director Brian Hemmingsen establishes a leisurely flow for the scenes that allows the beauty of Williams’ language and the emergence of his emotionally charged plot points to breathe like a fine wine. He resists the temptation to reveal too much too soon. This emphasis on imagery is aided by a set featuring symbols and icons scattered around pieces of realistic scenery.

Each of the cast of four has a time to shine but one, Linda High as the mother, shines all night long. The text gives her the deepest, most complex and best developed character of all and she takes every advantage of it. She is alternately charming, pitiable and infuriating, but through it all she is a human being with realistic limitations and thoroughly understandable inadequacies. Mark Rhea feels a bit wooden to start as the narrating son but it soon is clear that this sets off the narration from the action scenes and he lets loose in them. Susan Grevengoed also holds back a bit at the start in order to create the greatest contrast possible when the text allows her character to emerge from her imaginary world for a brief shining moment only to be dashed by unexpected reality. Jon Townsend isn’t given the luxury of building a character over multiple acts. He appears only in the final scene but creates a believable, understandable character in the short time allowed.

There is a distinctly Irish sensibility in the work of Tennessee Williams which is all the stronger in his semi-autobiographical pieces like this one. After all, the father who all but abandoned young Tennessee’s mother, her frustrated writer son and crippled daughter went by the name Cornelius Williams. Performing this, his most openly autobiographical piece before an Irish audience gives new meaning to some of the dialogue. When the mother asks if their guest drinks, her son says he doesn’t think so. When she discovers that both his middle and last names are Irish she declaims "Irish on both sides and he doesn’t drink?" as if it is an impossible combination. Audiences in Dublin found that incredulity well founded and not in the least insulting.

Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Brian Emmingsen. Design: Richard Mancini (set) Amber Hayes (costumes) Matt Rippetoe (sound and music) Dan Martin (lights). Cast: Linda High, Mark Rhea, Susan Grevengoed, Jon Townson.

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April 18 – May 11, 2002
Precious Lam

Waiting for the Slow Dance

Reviewed April 20
Running time 1 hour 35 minutes
Performed at Theater on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington
Admission is pay-what-you-can

Two one-act plays by one of Keegan’s co-founders, Eric Lucas, are presented together for an evening of thick Irish and Cockney brogue, colorful visual imagery and interesting approaches to story-telling. In one, Precious Lam’, the author takes the stage to perform the piece as a one-man show even though it has a number of different characters. In the other, four young actors trade the conversation back and forth with each having a few minutes for his own monologue.

Storyline: In Waiting for the Slow Dance four high-school age boys sit outside a school dance in Kerry, Ireland in 1951. While the strains of Irish reels are heard from inside the school, they tease each other, brag a bit, contemplate the great unknown that is the opposite sex and reveal themselves to each other and the audience at a key point in their transition from childhood. Precious Lam, on the other hand, is the story of a petty thief being released from years in prison in present day London. He’s under-educated and under-skilled but has enough intelligence to nurture high self expectations and a strong self-image that is tortured by his lack of success. He describes his capture, trial, conviction, imprisonment, release and discovery of just how much he has missed when he returns to his home.

Waiting for the Slow Dance is one of the plays presented in last year’s new works festival which Keegan called "The Shanachie Project." While at the time they called the presentation of Slow Dance a "full length production," they now refer to that staging as a workshop because Lucas has revisited the text, tightened up some of the imagery, sharpened some of the humor and now designates this production as the "premiere." Three of the four young actors from last year’s cast return to their roles while Ben Van Dyne comes in to handle the part of the most mature of the youths and he does it well. Robb (formerly Robbie) Welsh still hides his cigarette in the manner of a youth afraid of being spotted by anyone in authority while assuming a leadership role in the group. Joe Baker still holds back, giving a tender portrayal of a youth who isn’t sure he wants to move on to the next level, and Stephen Lam still gets his geeky kid to revel in the memory of his first encounter with a female breast (just one). The piece remains one of gentle humor and genuine fondness for the world of these boys.

Lucas’ skills at both writing and performing are on display in Precious Lam’ and they are impressive. The vocabulary of his central character and the characters’ interest in and ability to note and describe the details of his world seem at first a bit out of place for a soon-to-be ex-con from the lower economic strata in the blue collar world of England’s depersonalized remnants of the industrial revolution. But these very characteristics soon become the central aspect of the character as his intelligence and pride make his personal failures all the more disturbing to himself and to the audience.

As a performer, Lucas has the assistance of Dan Martin’s lighting design. At times, the distinct patterns of light become a second storyteller as Lucas brings to life not only his central character, but also three whose impact on that character’s fate are central to the story: his jailer, his cell-mate and the crook who got him involved in his life of crime in the first place and tries to draw him back in. Along the way, Lucas pulls off multiple cockney-ish accents as thick as required but with a clarity of enunciation that makes it all easy to understand even for ears not accustomed to the sound. It is a separate skill of note – one that the four young lads in the first piece have yet to master.

Written by Eric Lucas. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Design: Dan Martin (lights.) Cast: Eric Lucas, Robb Welsh, Ben Van Dyne, Stephen Lam, Joe Baker.

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February 28 – March 31, 2002

Reviewed March 2
Running time 2 hours 20 minutes

Keegan Theatre takes its third crack at a musical. Each has been a very different experience. Pump Boys and Dinettes was a fun bit of froth. Man of LaMancha was a dark and hefty message piece. Violet is simpler than LaMancha even though it is very much a message piece, and heavier than Dinettes even though it has a score that also draws from American western and pop/folk musical styles.

Storyline:  A musical mixing folk, gospel and pop sounds with a western flavor tells of a young woman whose face was badly scarred when she was a teenager. She sets off on a bus trip from North Carolina in 1964 in hopes of becoming pretty through a miracle at the Hope and Glory Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She meets and befriends two soldiers, one white and one black.

Amy McWilliams directs this deceptively simple piece with its straight forward story of the search for a sense of self, worth told through a linear story set in 1964, but punctuated with flashbacks to explain the origin and effect of the scar that has affected Violet’s self image.  This is her first outing as a director of a musical for Keegan and her staging is impressive visually, but falls victim to the difficult acoustics of the Clark Street Playhouse. The band, placed high in the hall behind a tall set, reverberates in the high-ceilinged space and covers the weaker of the vocals, especially those of Julie Schroll who, as the Young Violet in the flashback sequences, is placed high and farthest back. She frequently shares her space, however, with Jimmy Payne as her father, whose voice is the strongest in the cast. The strength of his voice overcomes that difficulty.

Dianna Harris is the grown Violet and she gives a performance that matches scene work and vocals quite nicely. She is particularly adept at communicating vulnerability in subtle gestures. The two soldiers are Steven Claiborne and Trenton Wagler – both of whom let loose with a stirring vocal from time to time. Each creates a believable character out of a somewhat sketchy script.

The set that Eric Grims designed for the space uses its height to advantage with the flashbacks staged on the upper tiers while the action that takes place in the present is positioned at ground level. It even extends forward of the set into the floor space.

Music by Jeanine Tesori. Lyrics and book by Brian Crawley. Directed by Amy McWilliams. Choreography by Sally Bruch. Design: Eric Grims (set) Dan martin (lights) Pam McFarlane (costumes) Tony Angelini (sound.) Cast: Deaqnna Harris, Steven Claiborne, Trenton Wagler, Julie Schroll, Jimmy Payne, Sharon Ellzey, Colby Codding, Angela Deniese Polite, Robin Lynn Reaves, Michael John Casey, Justin Ritchie, Emily Tinawi.  

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February 14 – March 10, 2002
Give Me Your Answer, Do!

Reviewed February 16
Running time 2 hours 20 minutes

Brian Friel’s new play of substance and verbal beauty is getting a Potomac Region premiere in a staging which matches that substance. It is a joint production by the six year old Keegan Theatre and the newly arrived Fountainhead Theatre. The production is marked by a number of resonant performances as director Leslie A. Kobylinski draws elegant ensemble work from a fine cast, concentrating on the language which is the strength of the play and leaving some of the plot questions for the audience to resolve to their own satisfaction later.

Storyline: An Irish novelist is having his papers assessed for possible sale to raise money as he seems to be suffering from writers block, burn-out and the pressures of caring for a permanently disabled, autistic daughter. As the assessor examines the manuscripts, the writer, his family and his friends examine the value of an artist’s life and creations.

Keegan Theatre has proven an affinity for Irish author Brian Friel’s work, giving his Translations an intimate production in the basement of Arlington’s Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church and then mounting his Tony Award winning Dancing at Lughnasa at the Warehouse Theatre in DC. Friel’s Faith Healer was one of the plays that Fountainhead co-founders Jim Jorgensen and Charlotte Akin list among their productions in Dallas, Texas before moving the theater company here. Since their arrival Both Jorgensen and Akin have made strong initial impressions as performers (Jorgensen in a WATCH Award winning turn as Richard III and a stunning Shelly Levine in Keegan’s Glengarry Glenn Ross and Akin as Mae in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Maria Callas in Master Class for the Arlington Players.)

Both Jorgensen and Akin are in the cast of Give Me Your Answer, Do! They share the stage with the likes of Michael Replogle who is the writer/husband/father who is considering the sale of his papers, Carlos Bustamante who is the assessor reviewing the material, Linda High and Stan Shulman as the writer’s in-laws and Maura McGinn who joins Jorgensen as the neighbors with more than a passing interest in the sale of the papers. Each delivers a polished performance but it is Akin as the writer’s long-suffering wife with a predilection for gin, and High as her mother who watches her daughter’s domestic difficulties through a lens of love as she’s coping with her own husband’s deterioration, that linger in the mind long after the final curtain. Lingering, too, is the image of Emily Riehl-Bedford as the stuporous hospitalized daughter. This is Riehl-Bedford’s debut as a professional actress but both her wordless performance and her stunning head-shot photo in the program mark her as someone to watch.

Keegan brought to the Spectrum Theatre one of the large black cloth partitions they have used at other venues. Here they set it up half way back in the overly large auditorium to concentrate the audience up front. It works wonders to make the space almost intimate. The set designed by Grant Kevin Lane is a simple but effective arrangement of three towering bookshelves, a simple railing and stacks and stacks of books and papers. Dan Martin’s lighting design that uses subtle changes to affect the atmosphere of scenes, and Director Kobylinski’s own sound design enhances the intimate feeling.

Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Leslie A. Kobylinski. Design: Grant Kevin Lane (set and costumes) Dan Martin (lights) Leslie A. Kobylinski (sound.) Cast: Michael Replogle, Charlotte Akin, Carlos Bustamante, Linda High, Stan Shulman, Emily Riehl-Bedford, Maura McGinn, Jim Jorgensen.

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October 18 -  November 20, 2001
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Reviewed October 20
Produced in association with Vpstart Crow Productions

Keegan’s stunning production of Tennessee William’s classic is every bit as good as its considerable reputation would lead you to expect. Five years ago, it was the first play the newly formed company put on and it was received with praise. Earlier this year it was revived for a three-city tour of Ireland. Again it earned plaudits. Opening in Arlington Virginia for a one month run, it delivers the expected impact and then some.

Storyline: The cat of the title is Maggie, the childless wife of Brick, the youngest son of Big Daddy whose family has gathered to get the results of Big Daddy’s cancer exam. Brick, a former athletic star in school has turned to drink and their marriage has degenerated into a sham for reasons partially revealed during the play.

Mark Rhea, Keegan’s Artistic Director co-directed the original production and is credited as the sole director this time out. He also stars as Brick, just as he did five years ago. Often such dual duty can signal an unbalanced production as it takes unusual artistic strength as a director to bring an even hand to the entire cast. Here not only is there no sign of favoritism or unbalance, the production is unique in the generous support Rhea’s performance gives first to Susan Grevengoed who is captivating as Maggie and then to Robert Leembruggen who is fascinating as Big Daddy.

That the first act belongs to Grevengoed is both by the playwright’s design and the result of her performance. She brings a strength to Maggie that makes the events in the climax both believable and somehow inevitable. Rhea resists all of the scene stealing potential in the script to give a very supportive performance.

The second act belongs to Leembruggen but the demands of the play require more action out of Rhea and he gives it. As the act reaches its peak the two men strike a performing partnership that is a pleasure to watch.

The third act briefly belongs to Peggy McGrath as Big Mamma gets her big scene, but for most of the act it is pure ensemble work. There are fine contributions from Jim Jorgensen and Charlotte Akin as the eldest son of Big Daddy and his fertile wife.

The original production was staged at the Church Street Theater in Washington. This time it is in the black box that Keegan frequently creates in the basement of the Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church at 1500 N. Glebe Road. The intensity of the play is heightened by the immediacy of the space with no more than about 20 feet between the stage and any seat. Set designer George Lucas has done his usual fabulous job of creating a visually effective playing area in the limited space available. Particularly effective is the ceiling fan he manages to install where there is no ceiling.