Actor turns tales into a solo show

Lefkowitz's play comes back to Center Stage from whence it sprung

Theater Column

January 11, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

When Josh Lefkowitz talks about Center Stage, he uses terms like "holy moment" and "the birthing of a writer."

To be specific, the 25-year-old actor-turned-playwright is referring to something that happened three years ago, when he had a bit part -- basically "pushing scenery" -- in Center Stage's production of Sweeney Todd. Back then, he often visited the dramaturgy office and regaled resident dramaturg Gavin Witt and former literary manager Madeleine Oldham with stories -- tales of odd jobs he'd had while trying to make it as an actor and of his adulation for monologist Spalding Gray.

Somewhere along the way, the Michigan native mentioned that, like the late Gray, he hoped to turn his stories into a solo performance piece. Witt and Oldham said they'd be happy to help. "It was a very generous thing for them to say to this young kid who was pushing scenery," Lefkowitz says from his current home in New York.

Six months later, he returned with 30 minutes' worth of material. Witt and Oldham were impressed. And so, a year after Sweeney Todd, the neophyte writer found himself performing a staged reading of his piece, Help Wanted, as part of Center Stage's First Look series.

Since then, he has performed the solo show -- subtitled A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century -- at festivals in Chicago and Washington, as well as at off-off-Broadway venues and, this past fall, in an extended run at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Now he's bringing it back to the place where it all started. From Jan. 25 to Feb. 18, Center Stage will present a special engagement of Help Wanted in a cabaret space at the rear of the Head Theater.

After the 2005 First Look reading, Lefkowitz went for a drink with some Center Stage interns, who were all roughly his age. "I was all high off the reading," he recalls, "I was like, `Do you think Center Stage is going to do it next season?' They were like, `No, no. You're many years away from that. Things don't work like that.'"

Lefkowitz expresses wonder himself at the way things have worked out. "When I went to the [Center Stage] Web site the other day, I saw The Boys from Syracuse and then Help Wanted. I was like, how does that happen?" The actor/writer, by the way, quit his last day job -- as a waiter -- in July.

Show times for Help Wanted at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., are 8:15 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $15. Call 410-332-0033 or go to center stage.org.

Also at Center Stage, at 7 p.m. Monday, the 35 high school students participating in the after-school Encounter program will perform original pieces they have created on the theme of risk. Admission is pay-what-you-can, with a recommended price of $5.

Theater weekend

You can get an early look at Lefkowitz's newest solo piece, tentatively titled, Now What?, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday as part of the weekend-long open house for Signature Theatre's new $16 million, two-theater complex in Shirlington Village, 2800 S. Stafford St., Arlington, Va. Other events include master classes, tours and concerts by Broadway performers Euan Morton (noon and 2:30 p.m. Saturday) and Emily Skinner (noon and 5 p.m. Sunday), as well as open rehearsals of Into the Woods, the new facility's inaugural production.

All events are free, but some -- including the Morton and Skinner concerts -- require tickets. These will be available at the box office on the day of the event beginning at 11:30 a.m., with a limit of two tickets per person. For more information call 703-820-9771 or go to signa ture-theatre.org.

Pa. connections

Two shows with Pennsylvania ties have been added to the Theatre Project lineup thanks to $10,764 in grants from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour. Our Shadows (March 30-31), created by the Bloomsburg Theater Ensemble and WAMDA, an Egyptian company, is a collaborative, bilingual puppet piece for children about cultures colliding and coming together. A Comic Strip (June 7-14) will mark the return of Touchstone Theatre of Bethlehem, Pa., in a work about a famous cartoonist who is rescued by characters from his favorite childhood comic strip.

The Theatre Project has also announced two other productions. The local company Kuumba Players will perform Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence (Feb. 9-10), and the United Kingdom's Songtime Theatre, a theater training school, will perform Jonathon Harvey's Beautiful Thing (Feb. 22-25), a gay coming-of-age play.

For more information call 410-752-8558 or go to theatrepro ject.org.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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