After 23 years heading Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage, Douglas C. Wager leaves the company at the end of its 47th season. Molly D. Smith, who co founded Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska, in 1979 and built it into a distinct American theatre voice during her 18 years as artistic director, will replace him in July.
Wager is leaving because he wants to concentrate on being a director and move away from the administrative side of things. He's working at the Guthrie this summer on a production of You Can't Take It With You, with a different cast from the one he'll direct at Arena Stage as his valedictory in April 1998. Meanwhile, he's staging Arena's next show, the modern comedy, Dimly Perceived Threats to the System, by Jon Klein. The show finishes its scheduled run Mar. 15, after beginning previews Jan. 23 and opening Jan. 28.
Called "a pill-popping, ultra-caffienated domestic comedy about a nuclear family approaching meltdown," Threats looks at the downside of "having it all." Wager calls it "an Age of Anxiety comedy [following] the `Everyfamily' of the Me Generation...where emotional priorities of personal fulfillment must surrender to richer ones... It's both a big laugh and a cold sweat rolled into one."
Klein, author of T Bone N Weasel and Betty the Yeti, says he came up with Threats after watching how former VP Dan Quayle's comments on "family values" got picked up by both Presidential candidates. "I found it strange that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Dole were both proclaiming their expertise on the plight of the American family, instead of admitting their own perfectly typical, statistically normal contributions to marital discord."
Starring in the show are Jacalyn O'Shaughnessy, Bill Kux, Gretchen Cleevely, Terrence Caza, Holly Twyford and Brigid Cleary. Designing the show are Tony Cisek (sets), Barbra Kravitz (costumes), Nancy Schertler (lighting) and Susan R. White (sound). Kenneth J. Cerniglia serves as dramaturg. For tickets ($26-$45) and information on Dimly Perceived Threats to the System at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theatre, 6th & Maine Ave., call (202) 488-3300.
The Arena season began Aug. 29, 1997 (with the Flying Karamazov Brothers in Room Service) and runs to May 13, 1998. Here's the remaining line-up:
Lovers And Executioners, by a disciple of Montfleury, translated/adapted by John Strand; dir: Kyle Donnelly. (Feb. 27-April 5).
Cunning, cross-dressing Julie takes revenge on the husband who abandoned her on a desert island.
You Can't Take It With You, by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman; Dir: Wager. (Apr. 3-June 7, opens Apr. 8).
Wager finishes his Arena years with a classic American comedy, populated by local Washington actors. Robert Prosky stars as Grandpa with his real life son, Andrew Prosky, playing Ed. Halo Wines, Tana Hicken, Henry Strozier co-star. Designing the show are Thomas Lynch (set), costumes by Patricia Zipprodt and Alan Lee Hughes (lighting).
Black No More by Syl Jones, Dir: Tazewell Thompson. (May 8-June 7, 1998; opens May 13).
A co-production with MN's Guthrie Theatre, this zany satire is adapted from a 1931 comic novel by African-American writer, George Schuyler. During the Great Depression, a black physician invents the E-race-olator, guaranteed "to turn even the darkest colored man white as a sheet!" Not only does Max use the machine, he tries to marry a Southern belle -- and lead a Klan-like race organization.
-- By David Lefkowitz