- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Brightly colored boas accost the eye and chaos fills the background as playwright-director Joanie Leverone Smith casually adds a new character to "The Smoke on the Street" and discusses questions with her actors only one week before opening night.
The group is Theatre for Persons With Developmental Disabilities, which will perform tomorrow through Tuesday as part of the Source Theatre's Washington Theatre Festival. The festival, which showcases eight new plays and a 10-minute play competition, runs through Aug. 26 in the theater at 1835 14th St. NW.
"The Smoke on the Street" tells of people innocently driving along the District's notoriously poor roads when they fall into a giant pothole. They face all kinds of problems in the pothole that are representative of life's difficulties. As they try to find their way out of the pothole, the motorists encounter D.C. Council members.
This is a production with political statements. Songs carry titles such as "The Dark Group Home," and lyrics mention the "underbelly" of the city filled with "bureaucrats shuffling papers."
The Theatre for Persons With Developmental Disabilities was founded in 1985 by social worker Shirley Rees in an attempt to raise awareness about the mentally handicapped. She says she was reacting to opposition in neighborhoods to the opening of group homes.
"I thought, 'They don't know people who are handicapped,'" Mrs. Rees says. She says she was pleased with the D.C. community's reaction to the group's first performance in 1985, which was a sellout.
"It helped clarify what mental retardation was because people thought it was the same as mental illness," Mrs. Rees says. "All they heard was mental."
Although the theater group's early performances were entirely improv, members soon graduated to scripts and memorized lines. Actors played several roles in productions.
Ms. Smith says that working with the mentally handicapped has differed from her other professional experiences — such as the group's piecemeal approach to memorizing lines and dialogue adaptation — but that the contrasts are not overwhelming.
The lineup for the Washington Theatre Festival is:
"Lauretta & the Queen of the Starlight Lounge," 8 tonight
"The Smoke on the Street," 7 p.m. tomorrow and 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
"Quilt: A Musical Celebration," 8 p.m. Wednesday through next Saturday.
Staged reading by Horowitz Family Fund prize winner, 3 p.m. July 22, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown; Source Literary Prize winner staged reading, "Couldn't Say," Christopher Wall, 8 p.m. July 22
One Acts Festival: "Dead Air," "Writer's Block," 8 p.m. July 23 and 24; "Drive," "The Thing of It Is," 8 p.m. July 25 and 26; and "Spin Cycle," "Nail Dreams," 8 p.m. July 27 and 28.
"At the Rim of a Purple Volcano," 8 p.m. July 29 through 31.
10-minute Play Competition: Aug. 1 to 5, featuring 40 plays
"Day-Old Plays," 11 p.m. Aug. 4
"The Muckle Man," Aug. 8-26 (8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays)
Tickets cost $15. Call 202/462-1073.

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