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Discovering some of MoCo's lesser-known theatrical venues

01 OBLIVION by Unexpected Stage Company PhotoCredit Rachel Ellis copyJonathan Frye and Ruthie Rado star in Unexpected Stage's production of "Oblivion." COURTESY PHOTO BY RACHEL ELLIS  Theater lovers all know the Round House Theatre, the professional theater company that produces performances at its 400-seat location on East-West Highway in Bethesda.

Theater enthusiasts may be less familiar with some of the other theater venues in the area.

One is the Unexpected Stage Company, which is based in Bethesda, at least for now.

The “unexpected” in its title doesn’t refer to the fare offered by the professional regional theater, but rather to the fact that husband-and-wife team Christopher Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich, co-artistic directors, came across an abandoned stage while driving around Seneca Creek State Park.

Being the enterprising people theater people usually are, the couple turned to the management of the park and asked if they could use the stage.

The answer was affirmative. The first production of a new theater company in-the-making was “A Phoenix Too Frequent,” by Christopher Fry.

“It was beautiful performing there with a canopy of trees,” said Christopher Goodrich.

Later the Unexpected performed in various indoor venues – most recently, for four years at the former Round House Theatre on Randolph Road.

It was a lovely venue, but “with over 200 seats, it was too big for us,” said Rachel Stroud-Goodrich. “We were looking for something more intimate.”

They found it in the River Road Unitarian Universalist Church’s Fireside Room in Bethesda.

“It wasn’t a theatre space, but we turned it into one,” Goodrich said. “In a small space, it’s impossible for the actors to ‘lie’ [in their performances] and the audience can’t lie either” in its responses.

The theater’s tagline is “exploring the intimacies and intricacies of the human experience.” The Unexpected's current production both relates to that tagline and involves surprises.

It is “Oblivion,” by Carly Mensch, better known for her television work as a writer for such shows as “Orange is the New Black,” “Weeds,” and “Nurse Jackie,” among others.

The four-person seriocomedy concerns a “hip” couple of liberal intellectuals living in New York City. After their adopted daughter goes away for the weekend, supposedly for a college tour with a friend, they find out she’s lying and fear the worse – such as sex or drugs.

“Turns out she had gone to a religious retreat and is converting to Christianity,” said Goodrich. “The play challenges assumptions about parenting, religion, and the nature of spirituality.” Coincidentally, too, the church venue “fits in thematically with the show,” Stroud-Goodrich said. The Unexpected management was looking for plays with strong female leads and “really liked the message and the wit” of “Oblivion,” he added. “We also aim to give a voice to the voiceless in the community.”

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Another Bethesda-based company is Quotidian Theatre Company.

The title means “everyday” in Latin, but the theater is accomplishing a feat that is anything but. The professional theater company is about to celebrate its 20th year.

“A lot of theaters come in and survive only one or two shows,” said Jack Sbarbori, co-founder of the theater with his wife, Stephanie Mumford, and its artistic director.

Aside from longevity, Quotidian has achieved a special status -- that of resident theater company of the Writer’s Center, located at 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, 20815. Other companies occasionally perform there for a night or two -presently, only the Flying V Theatre has longer runs. Quotidian presents three productions a year.

Over the years, Quotidian has developed a stable of quite a few actors and theater artists. “Many are local,” said Sbarbori.

“We do the material we want to do, that’s important to us,” said Sbarbori.

The plays presented are nonmusical, although five years ago the theater put on James Joyce’s “The Dead,” which, he said, “could be called musical.”

The current production is hardly a musical, although it has a great deal of A capella singing in it. The show is “Night Seasons,” by Horton Foote, who is probably based known for his play (which also became a movie), “A Trip to Bountiful.” Foote also wrote the screenplay for “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Most of us long for long life. But “Night Seasons” concerns a woman who had lost both her husband and daughter. On her 93rd birthday, she begins to realize her longevity may be her punishment.

In The New York Times, reviewer Ben Brantley said the work is an “examination of the quietly destructive effects of life defined by bank balances.”

“Night Seasons” fits in with Quotidian’s mission, which is to present plays about life, “normal life, that is, not over the top or different,” Sbarbori added.

Quotidian has been called a superb interpreter of Foote, and indeed, there’s history there. The playwright is one of two of Sbarbori’s favorites. He kept finding that more and more he was looking at Hoote’s work, and finally wrote to the playwright in the ’90s.

“He was so responsive,” said Sbarbori, “and not in the way some writers are, thanking you for being so smart as to see how great they are.”

The two kept up the correspondence and met a few times.

The second playwright Sbarbori admires is Conor McPherson. Quotidian presented his play “The Night Alive” – a dark, violent drama with elements of black comedy -- in fall 2016.

Sbarbori also met McPherson’s, and Quotidian is proud to have staged the American premier of his play “The Veil.”

The Unexpected Stage Company's production of “Oblivion” plays through August 6. For more information, visit: www.unexpectedstage.org.

The Quotidian Theatre Company's production of "Night Seasons" runs through August 13. For more information, visit https://quotidiantheatrecompany.org

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Last modified onMonday, 31 July 2017 20:38
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