January 27, 2011 | by David J. Hoffman
Theater potpourri

‘A Shadow of Honor’
by Peter Coy
8 p.m. tonight and Saturday
closes 3 p.m. Sunday
The Keegan Theater
at Church Street
1742 Church Street
Dupont Circle
703-892-0202 or keegantheatre.com

‘Genesis’
by Evan Crump
8 p.m. tonight and Saturday
closes 3 p.m. Sunday
The Warehouse Theater
1021 7th St. N.W.
(back room at the Passenger)
202-213-2474 or cityartisticpartnerships.org

‘Twilight of the Golds’
by Jonathan Tolins
8 p.m. tonight and Saturday
2:30 p.m. Sunday
through Feb. 5
Reston Community Players
Center Stage Theater
Reston Community Center
2310 Colts Neck road
Reston, Va.
703-476-4500 or rcp-tix.com
or box office

‘Return to Haifa’
adapted by Boaz Gaon
from the novella by Ghassan Kanafani
11 a.m. today; 8 p.m. Saturday
3 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
closes Sunday
Theater J
Goldman Theater
D.C. Jewish Community Center
1529 16th St., N.W.
800-494-TIXS or theaterj.org

From left, Mark A Rhea, Jon Townson and Michael Innocenti in 'A Shadow of Honor. It closes Sunday at the Keegan Theatre. (Photo by Jim Coates; courtesy of Keegan)

Good and evil, theology and science, past and present — these polarities loom large in four plays now on stage in Washington.

Closing on Sunday, a Keegan Theatre production at the Church Street Theater is the world premiere of Peter Coy’s multi-layered melodrama about history, “A Shadow of Honor,” the story of two families, each haunted by the ghosts of two wars — the Civil War and the Vietnam War — and the dead who gave the last full measure of devotion with their bloodshed.

“It is those I killed who are truly damned by God” thunders the alcoholic William Ruffin (ably played by Mark A. Rhea, Keegan’s founder and producing artistic director), author of the cold-blooded murder that happened in Nelson County, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in 1907, an incident discovered by Hamner Theater co-artistic director and playwright Coe in what he calls “a murder motivated by honor.”

The scene is set in the same house, with two troubled families in two places in time, 1907 and 2007. When past and present collide, something must give. And in each case, the smoking gun is murder, one committed by an 11-year-old boy when begged to pull the trigger by his father, damaged goods from Vietnam where he had earned, at great cost, a Silver Star. Another shadow falls with the gunfire in 1907, when Ruffin decides he must kill the man who deflowered his daughter and swears that “I’m a hero in the eyes of all true Southerners.” He tells his daughter, “I’ve taken my stand,” and later, “I love the South even though it exists no more!”

Michael Innocenti stars in a stand-out role as high school history teacher Tyler McNeill, the boy now grown to manhood yet shadowed still by his complicity in his father’s death. Watch him in his motor-mouth rush of words about the stress he feels, his voice a strangled cry of pain held inside, and attention must be paid when he pesters his wife Kathy, asking, “Didn’t you know that the South is the most violent part of the country?” As always, Anton Chekhov was right to say that when a gun is seen on stage it will surely be fired before the last act ends. The fear shown by his pregnant wife, in a riveting portrayal by Shannon Listol, is palpable as her voice shakes and her body quakes in abject terror.

Also closing this weekend, unless there’s a last minute rescue in the Warehouse Theater schedule that permits an extended run for two more weeks, is another play by a playwright from this region, D.C. resident Evan Crump, whose two-act drama “Genesis” about a mental patient who believes himself to be a fallen angel won the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival award for Best Drama. Retooled since last summer by Crump and especially by director John C. Bailey, a gay actor who is literary curator for D.C.’s Ganymede GLBT Arts Company, this play, which is a meditation on “the human condition,” astounds with its passion and crackles with electricity from mystery-shrouded start to ambiguous finish.

Actor Derek Jones, with glistening bald pate and his sinewy sleek ebony physique much on display, for he is shirtless much of the time, inhabits the role of the eponymous “Genesis” like he was alive in the role, not acting it. As his performance unspools, inside an asylum for the criminally insane, where he has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic (his doctor calls it “some form of delusional psychosis”), his beautifully dangerous mind always seem rational and his story becomes increasingly credible of being literally a fallen angel. But the question of whether he is sane or insane, convict or saint, human or angel, is never fully answered.

Worth a trip out to Reston’s Community Center Stage Theater in Fairfax County is a play about the “gay gene” (assuming one is ever located in the human genome) and the ethical dilemma of whether parents might abort such a child as eugenic prophylaxis. Written by gay playwright Jonathan Tolins and helmed by gay director Andrew J.M. Regiec, “The Twilight of the Golds” tests the limits of love and acceptance in a drama that ran briefly on Broadway in 1993. Then, the actress Jennifer Grey (best known for playing Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 hit film “Dirty Dancing”) played Suzanne (in Reston the role is played by Jennifer Cambert) who is pregnant and whose husband, a genetic researcher, discovers irregularities in the unborn child’s genetic makeup. Though completely healthy, the baby will likely be born gay, like Suzanne’s younger brother David, an opera set designer.

David (played in the Reston production by Andy Izquierdo) appears to have it all: a loving partner, a supportive family, but now he is drawn into the family debate over the fate of the child. Harvard graduate Tolins, a former writer and co-producer of “Queer as Folk” during its first season on Showtime in 2001 and also an actor who played the gay quarterback in the 2003 film “Totally Sexy Loser,” adapted “Twilight of the Golds” for a Showtime movie in 1997, featuring actors Brendan Fraser as David and Jennifer Beals (of “Flashdance” fame) as Suzanne. It was nominated for a GLAAD media award for outstanding made-for-TV movie that year.

Tolins, who has written for Bette Midler’s road-show tours and her current Las Vegas extravaganza, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” also spent time for two years writing for the Academy Awards show and the 2003 Tony Awards program. He now lives in Connecticut with his husband Robert Cary and their two children. His newest play “Glad Tidings,” is nominated for a GLAAD media award for outstanding New York City play, to be announced March 19.

Finally, there’s “Return to Haifa,” from Israel’s premier flagship theater company, Cameri Theater, now resident through this Sunday only at Theater J, at the D.C. Jewish Community Center’s Goldman Theater. The play, adapted by an Israeli Jew, Boaz Gaon, from the short novella by Palestinian Arab writer Ghassan Kanafani, brings to life the heart-rending saga of two couples — one Palestinian and the other Jewish-Israeli — who must face complex questions of loss and identity when the Palestinian couple returns to the home they fled in 1948 to learn the fate of the baby son they left behind. Now a soldier in the Israeli army, Dov meets his birth parents who had named him Khaldun, as he clings to his mother, a Holocaust survivor who raised him from infancy.

The play — performed in Hebrew and Arabic, with English surtitles — is a meditation on trauma and how to move beyond such wounds. Kanafani himself, assassinated in a 1972 car-bomb, probably by the israeli Mossad, was a spokesman for the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, viewed by Israel and Western governments at the time as a terrorist group. Yet in his novella, he acknowledged that Jews in Israel had also suffered, not just Arabs, and his empathy for such suffering marked his work as an unusual document to help build bridges. But even so, in Israel, most theater companies turned down the chance to produce “Return to Haifa” until the Cameri Theater stepped forward, and the production itself was dogged by protestors from Israel’s anti-Arab far-right.

The play is gripping for its look into the heart of anger and the soul of reconciliation. You will not soon forget the feelings it can stir. But Theater J has sought ways to go beyond these feelings, however, with a companion series of other plays and discussions it calls “Voices from a Changing Middle East: Portraits of Home,” including on Sunday night the play by Ben Brown, “The Promise,” set in London in 1917 when the future president of Israel, Chaim Weitzman maneuvered with British notables to support the right of Jews to return to a Zionist Israel. For more information on this series, see theaterj.org.

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