Breath and light

The play, as seen from the side, seemed to have little to do with her. She watched it, the way you watch an oncoming train, wondering if it will stop at a far platform—and suddenly you realise it is coming straight at you. There was no avoiding this thing. She would have to step into it, a kind of collision in time. The play was alive. It was made of air, with rules of iron. It was a marvel, and when it was over you were also Marvelous, Darling.

—Anne Enright, Actress, p. 50

Chain

Voice actor Jan Johns nailed it:

Artists spend so much time alone to create. But then the goal is to collaborate and connect and to finally be in that room with the other artists and creators to be able to come up with something together. And that is the joy of it.

Bloomsday

Middle-aged literature professor Robert returns to Dublin to explore a what-might-have-been romance: a chance encounter with a superstitious guide to a walking tour of the city of James Joyce’s Ulysses comes to an abrupt, unsatisfying end. The slippery nature of time, particularly as experienced by Cait, the tour guide, engenders a dialogue between past and present.

When the focus is on young Robbie (Josh Adams) and Caithleen (Danielle Scott), the energy picks up, especially in the key scene in Sweny’s.

But playwright Dietz makes Robert a teacher of literature for no particular reason, unless it is so that Robert can commit the apostasy of bashing the novel for the benefit of audience members who regret never having read the book.

  • Bloomsday, by Steven Dietz, directed by Kasi Campbell, Washington Stage Guild, Washington

The 39 Steps

The stars of this highly theatrical comedy-thriller are Christopher Walker and Gwen Grastorf, each playing “cast of dozens”—with the assistance of three backstage dressers. Grastorf is particularly effective as the self-effacing Mr. Memory and is just plain adorable as the innkeeper Mrs. McGarrigle, who dotes on Hannay and Pamela as the “runaway couple.” There are shards of Bernard Herrmann’s film scores from at least three Hitchcock movies in Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design. And, yes, there are shadow puppets.

  • The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan and the movie by Alfred Hitchcock, directed by Nick Olcott, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington

Standing

Too often too true: Chekhov’s Dramatic Principles for Community Theatre, by Ross Murray.

If in rehearsals an actor relentlessly points out the break with realism inherent in hanging a loaded pistol on the wall, then proceedings will grind to a halt until the director testily reminds the actors that this is not a democracy and that his sole compensation for this theatrical endeavor is two comp tickets for any performance.

Keep.

A relentless comic monologue, purportedly structured as a recitation of every item in Kitson’s house. The soloist, with a background in stand-up, can match heckle for heckle, calling out on this Wednesday two different audience members who had drifted away from total engagement. Quickly, the piece becomes less an itemization of the things that Kitson hangs on to and more a dump of the ideas and narrative wisps that he can’t let go of. He speaks well of keeping things around that make one sad; in one specific case, a shelf of clean, empty jam jars like “horrible little pockets of hope.” Despite the direct audience address, Kitson’s rapid-fire delivery sucks most of the air out of the room, leaving little breath with which to make a genuine connection with his listeners.

  • Keep., written and performed by Daniel Kitson, Studio Theatre Mead Theatre, Washington

A Chorus Line

The most powerful moments in this production come from the no song, no dance passage told by Paul (Jeff Gorti), a honest confession of a story not captured by cast recording albums. Samantha Marisol Gershman brings a naturalness to “Nothing,” dropping at times from a clear singing voice into speech. Emily Tyra’s Cassie shows us the fragility of a performer who’s hit some bumps in the road.

  • A Chorus Line, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, directed by Matthew Gardiner, Signature, Arlington, Va.

Little Shop of Horrors

If the finale of the current production of this silly, entertaining show (some have even called it campy) lacks spectacle—where are the plants that ate Des Moines?—at least there is a great makeup change for the principals (whose characters are being slowly digested by Audrey II), not to mention one more sparkly red costume change for the doo-wop girls Chiffon (Selena Clyne-Galindo), Crystal (Charin Wereley), and Ronnette (Alana S. Thomas). Scott Ward Abernethy shines as Orin, the evil dentist, and the parade of hangers-on chasing Audrey II’s Time-Life fame. Choreographer Ilona Kessell has built an adorbs tango/hora/grapevine for Seymour and Mushnik’s “Mushnik and Son.” MattaMagical’s series of Audrey II puppets are increasingly alarming.

  • Little Shop of Horrors, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, directed by Nick Martin, Constellation Theatre Company, Washington

Some links: 86

  • Converting 35% of the acreage of a coffee farm to shade-grown culture can maximize revenue, according to new research by Amanda Rodewald et al. and summarized by Gustave Axelson. Depending on the premium paid for shade-grown coffee, that percentage can go as high as 85%.
  • A smartphone attachment can test for the presence of norovirus in a drinking water sample and produce results in five minutes. The promising prototype comes from the biomedical engineering lab of Jeong-Yeol Yoon. Joe Palca reports.

    In the wake of hurricanes and other storms, flooding can cause sewage systems to overflow, potentially mixing with water intended for drinking. Municipal water system managers would breathe easier if they could be certain they didn’t have to worry at all about norovirus contamination.

  • How to cross a river. The water at Huntley Meadows Park is never this fast or cold.
  • Melissa Errico submits a “self-tape” audition.

Jitney

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson sets a snappy pace for this show, a dialogue between the generations, a pace that allows the humor to come through. David Gallo’s set, a run-down jitney station in 1997 Pittsburgh with traces of a former barbershop, crackles with details like a bricks-and-boards coffee table that isn’t quite square.

As the sot Fielding, inventive comic relief Anthony Chisholm’s strangled squeal of a voice takes us for a coaster ride, his pitch rolling up and down. Steven Anthony Jones imbues Becker’s act 1 closing monologue with gospel singing notes. As delivered by Francois Battiste, Booster’s curtain line of act 2 shines forth as perhaps the most powerful, succinct, inevitable last line of a play.

  • Jitney, by August Wilson, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Arena Stage Kreeger Theater, Washington

Assassins

Signature brings us a slightly subdued production of Stephen Sondheim’s black comedy of political murder and alienation. The playing space is rather shallow, generally with set pieces moving smoothly from the wings on wagons. When not in the scene, the assassins are offstage, rather than the popular choice of placing them in pigeonholes onstage. The sound design is a bit live and echoey, at least to my ears in row G.

Ian McEuen is an electric Zangara, trilling his R’s in contempt. Charles Guiteau, as played by Bobby Smith, is an interesting mix of effete glitz, self-effacement, and manic Broadway—buy his book, please. Vincent Kempski’s Booth is strongest in his scene with Lee Harvey Oswald, his dynamics ranging from understated seduction to a raging beatdown.

  • Assassins, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman, directed by Eric Schaeffer, Signature, Arlington, Va.