Special delivery for 'Isabel' Grant: Unexpected bundle from Kennedy Center fund boosts new play premiering at Arena Stage.

October 19, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Lisa Loomer's play about infertility, "Expecting Isabel," which is making its world premiere at Washington's Arena Stage, is one of three plays that have received 1998 grants from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.

The other grants went to Charlotte Gibson's "Lost Creek Township," a play about an all-black Indiana town in 1880, to be produced by Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, N.J., in April, and Nilo Cruz's "Two Sisters and a Piano," a play loosely based on the life of Cuban artist Maria Elena Cruz Varela, to be produced by the McCarter Theatre Company in Princeton, N.J., in February.

Each playwright was awarded $10,000, with another $30,000 going to the producing theater. In addition to these production grants, two playwrights have received $2,500 Roger L. Stevens awards -- Rebecca Gilman for "Spinning into Butter" and John Glore for "On the Jump."

In its 12 years, the Fund for New American Plays has awarded nearly $3.4 million to 91 playwrights and 48 nonprofit theaters to help mount the premieres of 65 plays. These have included three subsequent Pulitzer Prize winners: Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," Robert Schenkkan's "The Kentucky Cycle" and Wendy Wasserstein's "The Heidi Chronicles." Next month, a 1996 New American Plays grantee, Lillian Garrett-Groag's "The Magic Fire," about a family in Buenos Aires, opens at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.

"Expecting Isabel" continues at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. S.W., Washington, through Nov. 22. Call 202-488-3300. "The Magic Fire" will be presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington Nov. 7-Dec. 6. Call 800-444-1324.

Open house

Center Stage will hold its seventh annual behind-the-scenes open house on Saturday. "Backstage at Center Stage" gives visitors a chance to see the on-site shops where artisans create costumes and sets for theater productions. Two activities seem especially well-timed for Halloween -- a lesson in how to make stage blood and a chance to buy costumes from past productions (most costumes cost under $20, or you can choose to merely be photographed in costume for $1).

In addition, there will be a forum featuring actors from the current production of "Travels with My Aunt" and the forthcoming "As You Like It," as well as a question-and-answer session with the theater's production staff and a treasure hunt.

Linda Geeson, director of communications, says this season's open house was moved from the spring to the fall to accommodate Center Stage's many new subscribers, who may not have been backstage before. Geeson added that subscriptions for 1998-1999 are expected to top 14,000, the highest number since 1986.

Admission to Backstage at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. is free, but reservations are requested to guarantee a specific admission time: 10: 15 a.m., 11 a.m. or 11: 45 a.m. Call 410-332-0033 or e-mail "backstagenterstage. org.

Olney schedule

Olney Theatre Center has announced its 1999 season, which begins in March and will include four dramas, a comedy, a musical and a new production of the original non-musical version of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan."

Here's the lineup: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (March 9-April 11), Peter Shaffer's "Equus" (April 20-May 23), David Rabe's "A Question of Mercy" (June 1-July 4), Moss Hart's "Light Up the Sky" (July 13-Aug. 16), Athol Fugard's "The Road to Mecca" (Aug. 24-Sept. 26), Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" (Oct. 5-Nov. 7) and "Peter Pan" (Nov. 23-Dec. 26). Subscriptions to the seven-play season are on sale now and range from $119 to $168.

Meanwhile, wrapping up the 1998 season is the current production of "A Raisin in the Sun," which continues through Nov. 8, and a revival of Olney's 1993 production of "Holiday Memories," the stage adaptation of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" and "The Thanksgiving Visitor," scheduled for Dec. 1-Jan. 3. For more information, call 301-924-3400.

Angry words

Few recent plays have generated as much controversy as Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi." Last spring, off-Broadway's prestigious Manhattan Theater Club responded to death threats by rescinding plans to produce the play, which focuses on a gay Christ figure. A week later, the play was reinstated, after a host of theater artists accused the Manhattan Theater Club of censorship. Last week, "Corpus Christi" opened, with one group outside the theater protesting the play and another group, which included playwright Tony Kushner and television producer Norman Lear, protesting the protesters.

The critics waged protests of their own, claiming the controversy was more dramatic than the play. "The excitement stops right after the metal detectors," wrote the New York Times' Ben Brantley. "The play that brought an outraged chorus of protest even before it went into rehearsal is about as threatening, and stimulating, as a glass of chocolate milk."

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