`Da' opens Rep Stage year

Play: Hugh Leonard's work about family relationships is the first offering of the equity theater's new season.


September 20, 2001|By Arthur Laupus | Arthur Laupus,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What Tony Award-winning Broadway play had its inception and first production at Olney Theatre in the early 1970s, was later made into a film starring Barnard Hughes and Martin Sheen, and enjoyed a successful revival on Broadway in 1996?

If you answered Da, you obviously know your Broadway theater history.

Rep Stage, the professional equity theater in residence at Howard Community College, will open its 2001-2002 season with Hugh Leonard's New York Drama Critics' Circle Award-winning play tonight and continue its run through Oct. 7 at HCC's Smith Theatre.

Directed by Rep Stage associate artistic director and twice-nominated Helen Hayes Award candidate Kasi Campbell, Da is a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama about a middle-aged son, Charlie, a writer who returns from London to his home in Dublin to bury his adoptive father - the title character.

Although Da, a working-class provincial who lived in public housing, was an acute embarrassment to his son, he was warm, generous and the eternal optimist - qualities Charlie never recognized when he was a child. While rummaging through Da's possessions, Charlie begins to reminisce about his childhood while growing up in Dublin.

The ghost of Da appears, triggering a flood of memories and experiences the two shared, as they confront one another about life, family relationships and death. As the plot unfolds, Charlie is forced to come to terms with his shame over being embarrassed by his father and comes to accept Da as a loving parent.

Thus Da helps Charlie make the journey from exasperation, embarrassment and frustration to self-discovery, acceptance and understanding. Charlie is granted redemption through Da.

Although Da is at times sentimental and uncompromising in its treatment of family relationships, it is also funny.

Why was Da chosen to open the season? "I was ... reading a gazillion plays," said Campbell, "and interestingly enough, this was not my first choice."

That was a play titled Popcorn, which, like the film Natural Born Killers, is a satire on violence. But then she had an "epiphany" just before printing the season brochure, Campbell said, and she realized that Popcorn was not the right play to open the season.

"How fortunate for me in the light of recent events," the director said, referring to last week's terrorist attacks. "I realized that I needed something gentler, something with a warm and gentle nature to it - a welcoming piece to begin the season."

Although Da deals with conventional family issues, its structure is far from conventional. Time and memory are structured in a nonlinear way with many flashbacks and flash-forwards. "You don't treat it as realism," Campbell said. "It's more impressionism. ... "

The set is impressionistic, evoking a time and a place that exist in the characters' minds. The major portion of the set is Da's house, which seems to be breaking up and floating away. The set space on either side of the house is a "never land," according to Campbell, which can be transformed into the seaside, gardens and park benches. The title role will be portrayed by Leo Erickson of Ellicott City. Erickson was last seen in Translations two seasons ago at Rep Stage. The role of Charlie will be played by Dwight Tolar, who was in Rep Stage's production of The Judas Kiss.

"Da" runs tonight through Oct. 7 at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. A discussion will be held after the Sept. 28 performance. Information: 410-772-4900 or www. howardcc.edu/repstage. Tickets also may be purchased online at www.seatadvisor.com.

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