John Sadowsky and Maria Lakkala co-founded the Howard County-based Director's Choice Theater Company two years ago because, Sadowsky says, "We wanted to be the group that produced plays by local playwrights."
But the company has also developed an interest in classic American plays, which explains its current offering, William Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba" of 1950. The drama, which features Lakkala in the leading role of Lola, the lonely wife of a domineering, repressive alcoholic, is being co-produced by Director's Choice and Baltimore's Spotlighters Theatre.
"Come Back, Little Sheba" ran for most of last month at the Spotlighters' intimate, in-the-round space in the basement of an old Baltimore hotel. Sadowsky, who directed the show, is restaging it for the wide, proscenium-style stage at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, where it will be performed March 24-26.
"It's not as difficult as it may seem," the director reports. "It's not in the round, so we just have to have everybody facing the same direction."
Howard County Center for the Arts is "not really our home, although it seems to be," Sadowsky says. The center plays host to a number of groups, and "they don't really want to have a resident company," he says.
"Primarily what we want to do there is the Baltimore Playwrights Festival," he says.
Being involved in that festival, an annual showcase of new local plays, was one of the main reasons Sadowsky and Lakkala created Director's Choice. They have presented works by local writers such as Delores Moran and Daphne Hull and took Mark Scharf's "Falling Grace" -- about a woman who miraculously survives a sky-diving accident -- to River Hill High School. This year, the company is offering free readings of new plays each month at the Borders book store in Columbia.
Director's Choice operates on less than $5,000 a year. Most of the money comes from ticket sales, but Sadowsky said the company has a small grant from Howard Community Arts Council.
Sadowsky, 50, has been a mathematician for 20 years and works at the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. As a college student, he toyed with the idea of a career in the theater. Five years ago, he re-entered the theatrical world as an off-stage voice in an evening of one-act plays presented by the Columbia Community Players.
Lakkala began as a professional actress in San Francisco but stopped performing when she got married. Four years ago, she took to the stage again and met Sadowsky while they were both in the cast of Neil Simon's "London Suite" at the Spotlighters Theatre. They carpooled to rehearsals of "Oliver!" in Severna Park and began talking about starting a community theater company.
Both have since directed and acted for Director's Choice while pursuing projects with other companies.
Sadowsky says their goal for Director's Choice "is not to have it as a vanity theater company, but to build up a regular company with different directors."
Being away from the theater for so many years "gives you a different perspective than if you've been doing it right along," Sadowsky says.
His long absence from the stage, he says, has deepened his belief that "drama has something important to say to all sorts of people."