What’s new about a new theatre company? The question hums perpetually on the lips of DC theatregoers, as fresh independent art springs up beneath the layers of an established theatre community. It’s especially poignant for a new company that wasn’t even born there, and is making a home for itself in Washington for the New Year. Such a company is the migrated Idly Bent Theatre Company, fresh off the boat from Central Virginia and ready to make an impression.
Idly Bent’s nativity story is set poetically in the bleak midwinter, just off the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The cast and crew of an upcoming student play cool off from rehearsal in their basement apartment (colloquially known as “The Cave”) on Jefferson Park Avenue. The play’s director, Anne Haney, and its writer, Matt Minnicino, are rounding off their college theatre careers with a self-produced, fly-by-theseat-of-your-pants mounting of Minnicino’s tragicomedy Persephone, performed at UVA two years before. Having rehearsed for weeks under the auspices of “indie student theatre” the play’s cast and crew grew into a family, and with that grew their ambition to play together onstage long after the cap and gown. In a few short hours, a bouncing baby theatre company was born, and when Persephone premiered in February between the shelves of warehouse-cum-bookstore Random Row Books, affixed to its playbill were the words “Presented by Idly Bent Theatre Company.”
By fall post-graduation, the newly adult members of Idly Bent were dispersed all across the country—to New York, LA, and Washington, DC. So the company itself packed its bags and moved with Artistic Director Haney and a cohort of friends and colleagues to DC, ready to begin a phase of development and growth. These days, company actors doggedly rehearse for Idly Bent’s second production and DC premiere, a short-sharpshock rendition of Pinter’s blackly comic classic, The Birthday Party.
“Why Pinter?” The show’s director, company founder Anne Haney is a fiend for text, and an artist who follows the Bard’s dictum—to hold a mirror up to nature. “Pinter is perfect for us,” says Haney, “because his work so perfectly illuminates the absurdity, the terror, and the hilarity in the everyday. His plays are brilliantly crafted: funny when you least expect it, thrilling at the strangest moments.” Most of all, The Birthday Party has, under the austere surface of its label as “classic” three things that Haney cites as the pillars of Idly Bent: “Youthfulness. Energy. Fresh perspectives.”
Idly Bent’s mission is to put a fresh spin on old stories—whether through new works that spring from classic narratives, or bold and brash young renditions of stage chestnuts like Pinter. Haney’s vision for Idly Bent is of a taut, rousing intensity, to invigorate the brisk language of Pinter with the electricity of young actors (all performers in their 20s, playing an age range from 20 to 60) and to create a world that immerses its audience in sight, sound, and motion—aided by the addition of live music and without the ornamentation of naturalistic sets. The world of Idly Bent’s Birthday Party is a dark theatrical world audiences will be pulled into as soon as they enter the theatre.
“Pinter’s plays are merciless in reflecting our world back at us,” says Angela Pirko, a DC actress and director playing the coquettish Lulu, “He writes as a form of social outcry, to show us not only that there is suffering but that it’s vital that we pay attention to it.”
All but one actor in Birthday Party—founding company member Paul Thomas Truitt, who plays Stanley—are new to Idly Bent, but many are old friends gathered by diverse threads into Haney’s production by the excitement of launching a new company in the nation’s capital. “It’s new,” says Pirko of Idly Bent “which means few rules and the ones there are bendable.” Breaking the rules is key, and Idly Bent tackles the strictly legislated Pinter with gusto. “There is a lot of experimenting with young companies and that often brings new ideas or insights that you don’t get when you play by the rules,”
Actor John Crowley, playing the 60-plus landlord Petey, says. “They often creatively destroy the old way by discovering something new.”
“I hope that Idly Bent will exist as a new type of company,” says Haney, “one that prioritizes the creative process and the development of the artist over the rigidity of a traditional company structure. A company should always be open to new things: new plays, actors, directors, systems, forms. We’re a group of people organized around the common goal of putting on terrific, challenging, and affordable shows. We want to allow artists to thrive and grow alongside the company itself.”
Idly Bent’s nom de plum is derived from a line of Shakespeare. In Richard II, the Duke of York laments that “As in a theatre, the eyes of men, / after a well-graced actor leaves the stage /are idly bent on him that enters next.” Idly Bent strives to meet the eyes of its audiences and show them something that, minus the bells and whistles, is new—enough to engage, unnerve, and submerse an audience. “Idly Bent is trying to create unique art, plain and simple,” actor Paul Truitt assures us. “This is not your ordinary company—this is expression.”
The Birthday Party opens January 9th, 2013, at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC) – 2438 18th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets are currently on sale. For reservations, call (202) 462-7833.