Truly international staging

Project: Philip Arnoult works to have European directors stage productions in the United States.


April 12, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The matchmaker who brought Hungarian director Janos Szasz to the attention of Washington's Arena Stage, where his vision of "A Streetcar Named Desire" opened last weekend, is none other than Baltimore's own Philip Arnoult.

Best known as the founder of the Theatre Project, Arnoult is the director of a program called the Eastern & Central European Theatre Initiative. This project identifies young directors who can work in English and pairs them with American theaters.

Szasz is one of more than 20 directors Arnoult has identified so far. "If I had to gamble right now, I would say that there will be close to 18 major productions coming out of this project in the next four years," the globe-trotting Arnoult said during a rare stopover at his Baltimore home earlier this week.

The quality of individual productions inevitably will vary.

Still, Arnoult thinks the continuing conversation between American and European theater artists is beneficial in and of itself.

"Streetcar" is Szasz's second American production under this program. A two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker, he made his U.S. debut in February, staging Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston.

Szasz previously directed both "Streetcar" and "Mother Courage" in Hungary. Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith saw "Mother Courage" in January 2000, when she traveled to Budapest with Arnoult and a delegation from three other American theaters.

Impressed with what she describes in a program note as the "bold physicality, dynamic stage imagery and raw human passion" of the production, Smith decided to bring Szasz and his set designer, Csaba Antal, to Arena. The Theatre Initiative made that possible.

The Initiative has been given $130,000 by the Trust for Mutual Understanding, a New York foundation, for operating expenses for three years. Additional funds come from foreign governments and other organizations, Arnoult says.

He plans to take eight delegations, possibly including representatives of Center Stage, to Poland, Hungary and Russia over the next two years.

"American theater or Western theater has at its very basic roots a huge influence from this region of the world - Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Grotowski," Arnoult said.

"For the last 70 years, that linkage was filtered through politics and the language barrier. So now there is this generation of artists, directors, designers, composers who have formed their aesthetic after the political changes 10 years ago, 11 years ago." The Initiative, he said, gives American theaters a chance to reconnect with those roots.

Arnoult believes Szasz's work at Arena led the theater to rethink an American classic. "It's what happens to a theater when somebody comes in and turns everything upside down," he said. "The whole theater is impacted when you have somebody who comes in with that newness, and that's a huge gift."

Honoring fallen actress

Everyman Theatre has created a fund to honor the memory of actress Elauna Griffin, who died between the March 31 matinee and evening performances of "Blues for an Alabama Sky." Managing director H. Laurens Wilson said the Elauna Griffin Actors Fund was established at the suggestion of board president Jeannie L. Howe and will be used to support the needs of actors, ranging from health and transportation to better pay. Contributions can be sent in care of Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21201.

Wilson also said performances of "Blues" resumed Saturday night with actress Michelle Rogers playing Delia, a social worker, after only 3 1/2 rehearsals.

"The audience was very responsive, and the cast did a fabulous job of helping her and bouncing back and moving forward the best they could," he said. "We're really thrilled and pleased and happy and thankful to Michelle for working so hard and so fast in such a difficult situation."

"Blues for an Alabama Sky" continues at Everyman through April 22. Call 410-752-2208.

Interactive theater

Performance Workshop Theatre Company's Theatre in Dialogue program continues this spring with performances at schools and community centers and two free public performances.

Once again, the program consists of two one-act plays by Bertolt Brecht, "The Jewish Wife" and "The Informer," followed by a discussion with the audience during which the actors remain in character. The cast includes Marc Horwitz, Katherine Lyons, Jackson Phippin and Martha Watt, plus two Baltimore School for the Arts sophomores, John Kern and Kate McMullen. The discussions are moderated by Marianne Angelella.

The public performances are at 7 p.m. April 24 in the Barn Theater at CCBC-Catonsville, 800 S. Rolling Road, Catonsville, and 7:30 p.m. April 26 in the Haebler Memorial Chapel at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. Call 410-659-7830.

`Twilight' screening

The film adaptation of "Twilight: Los Angeles," native Baltimorean Anna Deavere Smith's Tony-nominated one-woman show about the aftermath of the Rodney King riots, will make its television debut at 9 p.m. April 29 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67).

Using verbatim transcripts of interviews she conducted, Smith portrays a range of people affected by the events, including a juror, a Hollywood agent, Charlton Heston and former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates. The film, which premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, is directed by Marc Levin.

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