On most nights, audiences can expect to see one play or, if they’re lucky, a series of one-acts. Few get the privilege of seeing the better part of four plays in one night.
The folks at Lumina Studio in Silver Spring are set to make that a reality.
Lumina Studio will present ‘On the Verge of A New Century’ on Friday through Sunday.
“‘On the Verge’ is a series of four plays we’re doing scenes from,” said David Minton, executive and artistic director at Lumina Studio. “In the past, our ensemble group — which is our advanced, most advanced group of actors that have been with me since some of them were 8 years old and they’re very trained, very experienced and very talented — we’ve done readings from plays from the 20th century in the past. They’re staged readings, which we tend to do it in a very staged way.
“In recent years, we’ve done what we call our theater group productions, which is mainly our adult productions that are directed by John O’Conner, who’s our Shakespeare scholar, and his wife Kelly O’Conner.”
Scheduling, according to Minton, was an issue this year, so the staff decided to combine the ensemble group with the adults on stage.
“We are doing plays from the 20th century, but we’re not doing them as readings,” Minton said. “We are doing scenes from those plays — major scenes — off book and staged. ... It’s an interesting experiment for us.”
Minton said the show is comprised of works by Clifford Odets, August Strindberg, Sam Shepard and Eric Overmyer. Each scene or act presented its own unique situation.
“‘Waiting for Lefty,’ for example, is I think very timely,” Minton said. “It’s a play about union life and the validity of unions and individuals within the union. I think it’s a very timely play even though it’s written in the ‘30s. It’s pretty straightforward. We’re doing most of that show.
“‘Lie of the Mind,’ written by Sam Shepard, we’re doing virtually the first act of it and it’s also a pretty straightforward show.”
Written by Swedish playwright Strindberg in 1901, ‘A Dream Play’ presented Minton with many challenges, but many rewards.
“‘A Dream Play,’ [was] written literally at the turn of the century,” Minton said. “It’s very complex — it was ground-breaking in its day and it really eschewed all realistic forms of theater. It was and is a very surreal play, kind of detached from everyday life while using elements of everyday life as if one was in a dream.
“It’s sort of timeless in a way. … It’s a director’s show and it requires a lot of thought and visual effects and sound in a way that you could spend a year on a play if you wanted, but we have a much shorter time frame. It’s been a challenge to work on it. Invigorating, but a challenge.”
Each individual show is unique, but the common theme is a focus toward the future.
“All of them kind of have this desire, this yearning for something beyond themselves,” Minton said. “It’s very true in ‘A Dream Play,’ where a goddess comes down to Earth to find out what mortals really want. There’s this yearning for something beyond the material, beyond the present in ‘A Dream Play.’
“It’s also very true in ‘Waiting for Lefty,’ but in a much more realistic setting where the workers want something beyond what the union is telling them they can have. The ‘rank and file’ want a better life, they want a future for their families. ... There’s this very strong sense of desire.”
Being a director’s play, as Minton calls it, ‘A Dream Play’ gives directors plenty of different ways to go when it comes to style, direction, costumes, etc. It can also become a bit of a nightmare if someone overthinks it.
“I’m satisfied with how I’m staging it. I wish I had more time. I find the more I direct it, the more ideas I get,” Minton said. “The play, in this way, has a very strong feedback loop. A play like, ‘Waiting for Lefty,’ for example, it’s fascinating, but it is what it is. These are real people, these are people we know or we know of them and they’re firmly based in reality.
“With ‘A Dream Play,’ Strindberg was after so many things in the play — human sexuality, human desires, human motivations and just the whole realm of the unconscious. He was very affected by Freudian psychology and the whole realm of the unconscious was fascinating to him. And it’s fascinating to me. I wouldn’t call it a regret, but the main wish that I have is that someday I would like to work on the play even more, in more depth and have a longer rehearsal period.”
Although different shows are stitched together into one play, audiences shouldn’t be worried. Each story, in its own right, is set to provide thought-provoking enjoyment.
“Entertainment is never really a bad word for me because I sort of think that is what we do,” Minton said. “If we didn’t do that, we could just present a lecture series. I hope all of the plays are dramatic and are engaging, not only from an emotional standpoint, but intellectually, because I think each play has a different kind of twist or a different message on what is the next step beyond where we are right now and how far we’ve moved.
“I think all of the plays bear reflection and all of the characters are engaging in one way or another.”