Love - and danger, death and betrayal

The romance is the extreme sport of literature. Two playing in the area make hearts go more than pitapat.

February 17, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

So you squeaked by Valentine's Day, and now you think you're free of all that romantic stuff for another year. Not quite, buster. Romance is still in the air.

On Friday, Center Stage begins performances of one of Shakespeare's late romances, The Winter's Tale. And today, Arena Stage in Washington wraps up the run of John Glore's modern romance, On the Jump.

These aren't romances of the hearts-and-flowers variety. In dramatic literature, romances have certain traits that transcend Harlequin paperbacks.

As Glore wrote in Arena's Performance Journal: "The literary romance is generally characterized by a story in which love serves as the impetus for extraordinary adventures. ... Romance stories often hinge on the separation and reunion of family members and move toward a reunion of parents and children and the promise of a new generation to come."

All of those traits figure into On the Jump, a play whose plot is precipitated by a suicidal leap off a bridge.

Seasonal changes, huge passages of time, life cycles and even magic are other common features. The Winter's Tale - which begins when a king unjustly accuses his wife of adultery - includes a gap of 16 years, a statue that comes to life and Shakespeare's most famous stage direction: "Exit Antigonus, Pursued by a Bear."

"Romance is an unruly genre. It's kind of addicted to extremes, great lengths - literally of everything, of incident, of emotion, of narrative time," says Charlotte Stoudt, Center Stage's resident dramaturg. "You need an entire planet to express how big those emotions are. You need a massive geography."

Though there's still some lovey-dovey stuff, there's also danger, death, betrayal and, ultimately, reconciliation.

In The Friendly Shakespeare, Baltimore author Norrie Epstein explains: "Not to be dismissed as escapist fantasies, these plays reassure us on a deep, almost subconscious level that whatever is precious can never be completely lost. ... Through magic, endings are turned into beginnings; the enchantment of the romances is not mere hocus-pocus, but the inexplicable alchemy of art and love."

Succinctly put, these are not romances for the faint of heart. The stakes are high, but so are the rewards.

Show times for The Winter's Tale at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays; matinees at 2 p.m. selected Saturdays and Sundays; Feb. 22-March 31. Tickets are $10-$53. Call 410-332-0033. The final performance of On the Jump at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., S.W., Washington, is 7:30 p.m. tonight. Tickets are $44. Call 202-488-3300.

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