The historical farce “Philosophus,” by contemporary playwright Colin Speer Crowley, is billed as “clever and funny,” making it perfect fare for Best Medicine Repertory Theater.
The Gaithersburg-based theater began its programming earlier this year, focusing on new works and specifically on comedies, according to John Morogiello, artistic director.
“The Shadow of a Doubt,” on the other hand, was written by Edith Wharton, the author of such classic novels as “The Age of Innocence” and “The House of Mirth,” who passed away in 1937. It is her only known play – planned for a Broadway run that never happened.
“Two scholars working at the University of Texas found the manuscript, which Wharton wrote in 1901, right before she started writing novels,” said Drew Lichtenberg, Literary Manager of Shakespeare Theatre Company, where the play will have a reading. “Like many people, she wanted to write for the stage.”
“Shadow” is a suspenseful tale – of a beautiful young woman whose motives in marrying a widower, according to most people around her, are questionable.
Yet, the two theater works have something in common.
Both are receiving staged readings locally – “Shadow” as part of STC’s ReDiscovery Reading Series and “Philosophus” in a reading series at Best Medicine Rep.
Set in the time of Voltaire, the famous French philosopher, the comedy “deals with what’s a very modern dilemma: is it brains, brawn, money, or sex that’s most important – as well with a corrupt government,“ said Stan Levin, director.
Voltaire (Terence Aselford) has a document the King wants back, but it might be a “maguffin,” a theatrical device that motivates the characters but may have no meaning, Levin added. “But the play has elements of truth and real personages.”
Since the 1993-1994 season, Shakespeare Theatre Company has staged more than 70 plays in its monthly ReDiscovery series, including many rarely produced classics, such as Schiller’s “Don Carlos.” Artistic director Michael Kahn selects the works.
The Series of 2001 also included the sold-out world premiere of Tennessee Williams’s rediscovered one-act plays, “Five by Tenn,” at the Kennedy Center.
“Shadow” seems like a work of suspense on the surface but is really about a common dilemma of women Wharton addresses in her novels.
“Kate Derwent, the heroine, is forced to trade on her looks, but everyone distrusts her,” said Lichtenberg. “Her husband’s first wife died in a hunting accident, and her father is obsessed with trying to find something in Kate’s past.”
Wharton’s female protagonists often have looks and money but no status, or no money at all.
Being part of the STC reading series generally bodes well for a play – one out of six readings go on to a full production. Lichtenberg, who leads talkbacks after the readings, expects that expect that “Shadow of a Doubt: will be in their company. “It’s a super-interesting piece,” he said.
The series has also been good for female playwrights, whose plays are well represented of late.
Despite its darker side, “Shadow” plays like a comedy of manners, like Wharton’s novel ‘The House of Mirth,’” Lichtenberg said.
Another advantage of the readings, which are for one-night-only, is that local actors are more likely to be cast. “Someone like Nancy Robinette, audiences love them reading the phone book,” he laughed.
The “Philosophus” reading takes place on Sunday, November 12, at 3 p.m., in the Community Room of Lakeforest Mall at 701 Russell Avenue in Gaithersburg (at the Green Flower entrance). A discussion with the playwright will follow the performance. Admission is free.
“The Shadow of a Doubt” reading takes place on Monday, November 13, at 7:30 p.m., at the Landsburgh Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Admission is free as well.
For information about Best Medicine Rep, visit: http://www.bestmedicinerep.org. For information about STC readings, visit: www.shakespearetheatre.org.support/special-events/rediscoveryreadings.