Risks paying off for UMBC theater


March 25, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Six months ago, Colette Searls would have been shocked if someone had told her that Buried would make it to the finals of the American College Theater Festival.

An original puppet piece about the casualties of war - conceived and directed by Searls, an assistant professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County - Buried is one of six works by university theaters nationwide that have been invited to the finals of the 36th annual festival. It will be performed by 10 of Searls' students at Washington's Kennedy Center next month.

Although Buried marks the sixth time UMBC has made it to the national festival, it is the first puppet work to reach the finals in more than 20 years.

Indeed, Searls says the reason she would have been shocked is that "we took so many risks." One of the bigger risks was featuring live actors interacting with puppets. For example, an actor portrays a mother who lost a son in Hiroshima, and the spirit of the son is played by a puppet. Like a number of the puppets, this one is made from found objects, specifically, butcher paper and masking tape sprayed to look like ash.

Using actors and puppets together was a thematic decision. Puppetry, Searls explains, allows you to "endow anything with life and soul. That to me is really connected to the idea of these victims of war whose bodies - especially when they're in mass graves - have been turned into debris. We're trying to re-dignify them by bringing them back to life, and puppetry does that. On stage, the idea is that they're trying to reconnect with loved ones."

Buried generated considerable buzz at the regional competition at Allentown, Pa., in January, and by the time it was chosen for Kennedy Center, Searls was "utterly delighted," instead of shocked. "I think [the judges] are excited to see something new," she says. "While traditional theater has its place in the college curriculum, I think there's a real hunger for inventive theater."

UMBC also will be represented at the festival by sophomore Jason Roth, who has been chosen to compete for an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship for the second year in a row. He will perform scenes from The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) and Lanford Wilson's Poster of the Cosmos as part of "The Irene Ryan Evening of Scenes" at 7:30 p.m. April 16 in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Tickets are $15.

Buried will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 12 and 13 in the Terrace. Tickets are $5. For more information, call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kenne dy-center.org/education/actf.

2004-2005 season

In other news from the Kennedy Center, the 2004-2005 theater season has been announced. First up, in the fall, will be a staged reading of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond, starring James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. A pre-Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie will follow in December.

February brings a concert staging of Regina, directed by Lonny Price and starring Patti LuPone. Based on Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, the Marc Blitzstein musical is part of the center's six-month series, "A New America: The 1940s and the Arts."

Also part of the series, the center will mount a new production of Tom Heggen and Joshua Logan's Mister Roberts in March, directed by Robert Longbottom. In the spring, the Royal Shakespeare Company returns for the third year of its five-year residency. And, the Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray arrives at the Kennedy Center Opera House in July 2005.

For subscription information, call 202-416-8500.

Shakespeare Theatre

Across town at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre, the 2004-2005 season will include three Shakespeare plays, an Oscar Wilde comedy and a new translation of a 19th-century French drama.

The lineup begins with Macbeth (Sept. 1-Oct. 24), starring Kelly McGillis as ambitious Lady Macbeth. Direction will be by Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn, returning to a script he staged in 1988, when the theater was at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Next, Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses) will make her Washington debut directing the theater's first production of the romance Pericles (Nov. 9-Jan. 2). The third production will be the world premiere of Washington playwright John Strand's translation of Alfred de Musset's play about Lorenzo de Medici, Lorenzaccio (Jan. 18-March 6), starring Wallace Acton.

Another Shakespeare Theatre veteran, Philip Goodwin, will play Prospero in a spring staging of The Tempest (March 22-May 22). The season will end with Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan (June 7-July 31), directed by Keith Baxter and starring Dixie Carter, who last appeared at this theater in Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, in 1998.

Subscriptions go on sale next month. For more information, call 877-487-8849.

Before any of that gets under way, however, there's news about the current season. Stacy Keach has been cast in the title role in the season's final production, Cyrano de Bergerac (June 8-Aug. 1), under Kahn's direction. A 1999 recipient of the Shakespeare Theatre's Millennium Recognition Award, Keach previously starred there in director Joe Dowling's 1995 production of Macbeth and in Kahn's 1990 production of Richard III.

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