The Second Summer Potomac Theatre Festival will be in residence at Maryland's Olney Theatre Center, Aug. 3-29. According to Cheryl Faraone, one of Three Artistic Directors of the Potomac Theatre Project, the two play repertory examines how "it is a political act to create art at the end of the 20th century," through examining the lives of artists who disturbed the status quo.
Faraone will direct the area premiere of Stanley, by British playwright Pam Gems, which explores the work and unusual personal life of Sir Stanley Spencer. A visionary painter born in 1891, Spencer divorced Hilda, his devoted wife and soulmate, to marry Patricia Preece, a lesbian who found his money useful but preferred the company of lifetime partner Dorothy Hepworth. In the PTP production, the role of Stanley is played by Alan Wade, Hilda by Helen Hedman, Patricia by Lee Mikeska Gardner, and Dorothy by Julie-Ann Elliott. The original 1996 Royal National Theatre production won Olivier Awards for Gems for Best New Play, Antony Sher as Best Actor in the title role and Deborah Findlay as Best Supporting Actress, as Hilda. The London hit was imported for a brief run at New York's Circle in the Square Theater in 1997. (Spencer's paintings were exhibited in the United States in 1997, first at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., then in Chicago and San Francisco.)
Running in repertory will be "Havel: The Passion of Thought," five short plays selected and directed by Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, who first presented the original "compilation" at Vermont's Middlebury College in 1991. (Both Faraone and Romagnoli are professors in Middlebury College's Theatre Department. Since PTP's founding in 1987, the College has provided substantial financial support for the festivals in exchange for the opportunity for undergraduate theatre students to participate as cast, technical crew, and administrative staff.) Three short plays by Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Federal Republic, form the core of the show. Audience, A Private View, and Protest dramatize the post-prison life of Ferdinand Vanek (a semi-autobiographical character created by Havel, played by Christopher Lane).
Bracketing the Havel plays will be Harold Pinter's New World Order and the seven-minute Catastrophe, a play written for Havel by Samuel Beckett.
The company also includes Michael Russotto, James Matthew Ryan, Janet Stanford, Michold Biancosino, Alexander Cranmer, Malaya Drew, Raquel Davis, Stephanie Janssen, Tyson Lien, Peter Makrauer, Andrew Smith, Nicola Smith, and Frank Wildermann. PTP designers include Adam Magazine (Scenic/Lighting); Malaya Drew/Debra Sivigny/Frank Wildermann (Costumes); Ron Ursano/The Chroma Group, Ltd., Sound Design.
PTP began its association in 1977 as the New York Theatre Studio, a peripatetic off-off Broadway company which, until 1985, produced in such locations as the Hotel Ansonia on the Upper West Side. Addressing a void for political theatre in the nation's capitol, Faraone, Romagnoli and Co Artistic Director Jim Petosa (also Artistic Director of Olney Theatre) relocated their company in 1987. Producing primarily in an intimate space in the Hall of Nations in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.), they gradually built a devoted audience for their aggressively political theatre, designed "to illuminate the nightmares and hoaxes by which we live." Asserting that a theatre of ideas should be open to everyone, they stopped charging fixed admission in 1990, netting more income through soliciting contributions. However, for the 1999 repertory, there is a charge of $4.00 to ensure seats.
PTP will be the first company to perform in Olney Theatre's newly constructed Mulitz-Gudelsky Family Theatre Lab. Call (301) 924-3400 for reservations.
In keeping with the Festival theme of "Exploring the Artist," Olney Theatre's main stage will offer The Road to Mecca by South African playwright Athol Fugard, directed by Adele Cabot, running Aug. 24 -Sept. 26, 1999.
Helen-Jean Arthur plays Miss Helen (based on real-life artist Helen Martin), a reclusive, elderly widow who spent 15 years transforming her South-African home into a "Mecca," a glorious work of art, filled with life-sized camels, wise men and peacocks. But now Pastor Marius Byleveld (Max Jacobs) wants her to relocate to a home for the aged. Summoned by Miss Helen, Elsa Barlow (Hope Lambert), a Capetown teacher and spiritual protege of the older woman, drives 700 miles to defend her mentor's artistic vision and freedom against this representative of the community which has shunned her. Ticket prices are $15-$32. Call (301) 924-3400. Olney Theatre is located at 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney Maryland.
-- by Barbara Gross