- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2008

From Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” to Shelagh Stephenson’s “Experiment With an Air Pump,” we theater geeks dearly love our literary “what ifs,” the delectable mingling of real-life figures with fictional folk.

With Mr. Stoppard’s “Travesties,” it was James Joyce, Lenin, and Tristan Tzara. In “Air Pump,” it was Paul Mark Roget (of the Thesaurus fame) who traded witticisms with made-up characters. Local actor and director Kathleen Akerley follows this tradition with her cerebral and fanciful “Theories of the Sun,” a striving world premiere play from Longacre Lea co-directed by Miss Akerley and Jonathon Church.

Set in a French pension in the fall of 1963, “Sun” features two renowned Toms — a young Tom Stoppard (Dylan Pinter) flirting with the metaphysical absurdities of his new play, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” and Thomas “Tennessee” Williams (Michael Glenn), the Southern writer still vigorous and engaged in life the decade before he became a sozzled parody of himself.

There’s another famous figure as well, whose true identity is revealed in the second act. For most of the play, though, he is known as Mr. Asher (Michael John Casey), a globe-trotting academic who gathers myths about the sun.

Everyone is waited on by a preternaturally attentive Proprietor (Daniel Vito Siefring), including two newcomers: Barbara (Miss Akerley) and Elizabeth (Abby Wood) Sweeny, a mother-daughter duo from America seeking a diagnosis from the Clouseau-like Dr. Giraud (Jason Lott) for Elizabeth’s rather magically confounding medical condition.



Again, the secret is not disclosed until the second act, but suffice to say, if everyone had such troubles there would be no need for Botox.

“Theories of the Sun” explores ritual and myth, grief and loss in an elliptical drama that attempts magical realism, but lacks the requisite sense of whimsy and unearthly possibility. It does not cast a spell to have the cast burst into odd little shamanistic dances every time the playwright paints herself into a dramaturgic corner.

More troubling is the absence of an emotional core. The only true moments of connection are in the deft exchanges between the youthful Mr. Stoppard and the seasoned Mr. Williams (captured in a polished performance by Mr. Glenn) and when Mr. Asher (an entrancing Mr. Casey) vividly recounts various sun myths to a rapt Elizabeth.

What you expect to encounter is a genuine bond between Elizabeth and her daughter. But both actors play the roles with such clipped, intellectual detachment that all you get are them talking rings around each other.

Glimmers of verbal artistry can be found in “Theories,” but anything approaching the dazzling wordplay of the real Mr. Stoppard or Mr. Williams winds up buried in wads of high-minded verbiage that contributes to a running time of three dreary hours. The play has a surfeit of intriguing ideas, but very little poetry.

★★

WHAT: “Theories of the Sun” by Kathleen Akerley

WHERE: Longacre Lea at Callan Theater, Catholic University, 3801 Harewood Road NE

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 7.

TICKETS: $12 to 18

PHONE: 202/460-2188

WEB SITE: www.longacrelea.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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