June 13, 2012

Decades ago, when I was a curious but shy teenage theater fan,  I sat in on the rehearsals for the season finale of a small theater company called Woolly Mammoth (then in its sixth season), and it blew me away.  It was a play written in 1964, but was entirely new to me.  I remember being mystified, but also electrified, and I was entirely at a loss for words when I got the chance to meet with the actors and directors. I’ve never seen And Things That Go Bump in the Night since, and nothing else by its author, Terence McNally, has ever had the impact on me of that experience.  Fast forward twenty years, and Woolly Mammoth is no longer a fledgling company in a theater with a leaky roof, though it has kept its reputation for unpredictability, risk, and joy in its newer theatrical home.  This is a company that now brings Washington audiences world premieres (Stunning, Antebellum, Eclipsed) and has become a welcoming and revitalizing environment for a diverse mix of contemporary work.

Mr. Burns, Woolly’s current “post-electric” play, has found such a home in the theatre, from now until July 1st   (http://woollymammoth.net/performances/show_mr_burns.php) Even more than my first foray to Woolly long ago, this one hit me with delight, perplexity, and fascination.  And yes, I’ll jump at the bad pun, I was electrified.  Mr. Burns will provoke countless arguments about and many different interpretations of “what happened” both before and in the play, but for me it so strikingly and precisely captured he ways we understand ourselves and connect with each other through stories.  Both the characters’ and the actors’ performances show us how, when we experience devastation or loss, we also remake ourselves through stories.  Act III (this is no spoiler!) invites us to laugh at this need through a hilarious spoof of the inventions of creation myths and historical misreading.

Interestingly, that need to comfort ourselves through the retelling and reinvention of our histories is simultaneously being poignantly dramatized across town at Forum Theatre. This weekend is your last chance to catch The Illusion, a beautifully moving and delightfully antic production of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Corneille’s 17th century drama (http://forum-theatre.org/the-illusion ). The two works spring from distinctly different eras and worlds, yet both depict characters at the ends or at least the edges of their respective worlds, seeking to recover from loss or reclaim their pasts through reenactments.  Both productions encourage a collaborative experience of the plays, whether through post-show conversations or interactive lobby installations.  Go see these two plays if you haven’t – you won’t be sorry!