- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

Talk about timing. Washington is twice blessed if that word is apt by having two original dramas on its stages at the moment that relate to the tragedies of September 11. They are among a host of activities being sponsored by area cultural institutions that connect with or commemorate a day indelibly preserved in the nation's memory.

Both “Recent Tragic Events” by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and “Anthems: Culture Clash in the District” at Arena Stage are world premieres. The contents of each were conceived by theater professionals of widely differing backgrounds in response to the emotions engendered by the terrorist attacks. Both are in a seriocomic vein, providing plenty of laughter amid the tears, which, strange as it sounds, may be the best way to honor a solemn occasion and keep sentimentality at bay.

“Recent Tragic Events” arose directly out of that day's complex musings about the nature of fate and the eternal philosophical dilemma between determinism and free will.

The setting is the apartment of a young female advertising executive who is having a blind date with the owner of an airport bookstore the day following the attack on the World Trade Center, where her twin sister may or may not have been working. The prospects of the romantic encounter working out are chancy enough, but we also are confronted by the prospect of identical twin sisters having their lives forever altered by the seismic end of the twin towers.

“If I ever go back to being what I was before yesterday, just shoot me,” one of the characters says while indulging in pizza overload. Unlikely as it seems, a fanciful stand-in for author Joyce Carol Oates makes an appearance, while in the background, a TV anchor's voice recounts in droning fashion the dismal facts of the terrorists' achievement.

Playwright Craig Wright walks a fine line in his timely drama, which he has said was inspired by “the deep sense of inevitability” that hit him seeing an image of the planes lodged in the burning towers.

“I wanted to show average Americans in the wake of 9/11, struggling with these questions, trying to understand,” he says.

The cast, directed by Michael John Garces, includes Holly Twyford, Eric Sutton, Michael Ray Escamilla, Dori Legg and Nehal Joshi. The play runs through Sept. 29 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q streets NW.

The concept of “Anthems” had its roots two years earlier in a commission by Arena for the three Latino-minded creators of such satirical portraits as “Radio Mambo,” an original take on the history and people of Miami.

Richard Montoya, one of the three members of the 18-year-old Los Angeles-based Chicano-Latino troupe, did most of the writing of “Anthems,” inspired by conversations the three actors had locally over many months with D.C. residents from all walks of life. Trio member Ricardo Salinas, who does a star turn as a Salvadoran immigrant, is among the cast of nine, as is Mr. Montoya.

Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright and scheduled to run through Oct. 13, “Anthems” is a pastiche of scenes, alternately tearful, satirical and comedic, bent on illustrating the complex social and political milieu of the nation's capital. It is set, for the most part, just after September 11.

The work, described by Mr. Montoya as illustrating “a tangled kind of patriotism” and as a kind of love letter to the District, stays above actual events of the day for the most part. Osama bin Laden's name is invoked several times, but so are the names of jazz stars who performed here in the past. One of the resulting anthems is a hymn to many of the District's forgotten history and people.

(Almost all theaters locally will go ahead with next Wednesday's performances as scheduled. Arena Stage will be closed for business until noon that day, meaning no telephone calls will be answered “so people can celebrate privately any way they wish,” spokeswoman Denise Schneider says.)

Even the first production of the Shakespeare Theatre's 2002-2003 season touches indirectly on memories of the day.

“The Winter's Tale” begins in a dark time but turns hopeful at the end. The plot revolves around a king who banishes his wife and daughter under suspicion of treachery and 16 years later discovers redemption. Director Michael Kahn, the theater's artistic director, reminded patrons at Tuesday's opening that, coincidentally enough, the play was the first he had directed after taking over the company 16 years ago when it was at the Folger Library on Capitol Hill.

He chose it again this year for its “message of hope” and sense of “renewal and reconciliation,” he writes in the theater's bulletin, called Asides.

But it was not “The Winter's Tale” that Shakespearean scholar Ken Adelman cited Tuesday as being most pertinent to the present time. “King Lear' for sure, which is about the nature of evil,” he noted, quoting at once one of that play's lines: “What is it makes these hard hearts?”

The very last performances of the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration take place today and tomorrow, the final presentations of “Pacific Overtures” as vividly interpreted by the New National Theatre of Tokyo.

The work incorporates some timely and telling commentary about the misadventures of imperialism and technology. They're big concepts, to be sure, but there is no mistaking the message during the finale, when the words September 11 flash in surtitles above a stage littered with the detritus of war and the breakdown of civilization.

More comforting perhaps are free performances on tap at the Library of Congress.

Folk singer-songwriter Tom Paxton can be heard in concert at noon Tuesday on the Neptune Plaza of the Thomas Jefferson Building as part of the library's Homegrown 2002 outdoor concert series. The Virginia Grand Military Band will offer a program of American band classics Thursday at noon in the Coolidge Auditorium. Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega will perform at a sold-out concert Friday at 8 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium.

Wednesday at noon, Stephen Perillo's “Symphony for America” will have its world premiere on the Capitol's West Lawn with the Washington Symphony Orchestra. Featured performers include Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels and a host of other soloists and singing groups.

Called a Memorial Concert and Celebration of America, the event, which is free and open to all, is intended to honor those whose lives were lost and others whose lives were forever changed by September 11. Its theme is Transform Infamy Into Community Through Service and the Arts. Mayor Anthony Williams is scheduled to attend, along with many members of Congress.

A remembrance ceremony led by Bob McGrath of television's “Sesame Street” will be held at Wolf Trap for nearly 3,700 Fairfax County public school fifth-graders and their parents from 10:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday during the 32nd annual International Children's Festival World Cultures Enrichment Program. The event is sponsored by the Fairfax County Arts Council and the Wolf Trap Foundation. The majority of festival activities are taking place at Wolf Trap next Saturday and Sunday.

Another Library of Congress program honoring the day is an exhibition titled “Witness and Remembrance: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress,” on display in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building through Oct. 26. Materials include audio interviews with U.S. citizens conducted by the library's American Folklife Center and examples of newspaper coverage from across this country and the world.

Further public programs in the “Summon the Heroes” series taking place through October include film and video presentations, panel discussions, gallery tours and curatorial talks. (Check local listings for details.)

The Kennedy Center also has the District's poet laureate, Delores Kendrick, along with several other younger female poets, reading from their works on the Millennium Stage Wednesday at 6 p.m. An all-star program called “A Concert for America” and being taped Monday in the Eisenhower Theatre for showing on NBC on Wednesday at 9 p.m. is for invited guests only, although those who obtained free tickets in advance (available last Saturday only) will be able to watch the concert Monday by closed-circuit large-screen transmission. Anyone wishing to check on last-minute tickets for the closed-circuit venue should call 202/682-5614.

(As part of the Kennedy Center's Prelude Festival, taking place as scheduled, performances of the Orion String Quartet, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and “Shear Madness” will take place before paying audiences in other parts of the building.)

“ARTifacts: Kids Respond to a World in Crisis” is an exhibition curated by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers of selected artwork by students ages 12 to 19 from across the country illustrating responses to the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. The show will be displayed through September in the Kennedy Center's North Gallery.

Other institutions promoting remembrance activities include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, which is presenting a show of artifacts from the crash sites, and the National Building Museum, which will offer a “Spotlight on Design” lecture by Santa Monica architect Thom Mayne, who will discuss his views on World Trade Center plans.

The lecture is part of the museum's ongoing series of exhibitions and programs titled “Building in the Aftermath.” The lecture, which has an admission price, takes place Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

In addition, a panel of officials in charge of the Phoenix Project which deals with the reconstruction of the Pentagon will speak at the National Building Museum Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. to explain the complexities of a project that was completed in less than one year. The panel will be led by Allyn Kilscheimer, president of the firm KCE Structural Engineers, which was in charge.

A display of more than 30 front pages of newspapers published Sept. 12 make up an exhibit, “America Under Attack: September 11, 2001,” in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It has been organized in cooperation with the Newseum, the interactive museum of news.

The Arlington Historical Society is featuring an exhibit called “Building the Pentagon, 1941-43” to highlight the past and present of one of this country's most important buildings. Architect Michael Yopp of the Pentagon Renovation Office will talk about the restoration project on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Arlington's Central Library Auditorium. The exhibit is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

An exhibit of several dozen handmade quilts created in response to the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center can be viewed in the Ronald Reagan Building atrium through Sept. 15.

Many of the designs, which symbolically illustrate the emotions of the day as well as the iconic buildings affected, are original contributions from students in area public schools.

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