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'Short Order': Service with a Swirl

New Charter for Theater On The Run.

Charter Theatre, a professional troupe that develops and produces only new plays, has moved from its basement venue in upper Georgetown to the black box Theater On The Run, owned and operated by Arlington County's Cultural Affairs Division.

Charter's first production in its new home is a comedy/drama by local playwright Renee Calarco, who is known principally for short plays — so short, in fact, that she was a frequent contributor to the Source Theatre Ten-Minute Play competition.

This full length play, titled "Short Order Stories," offers some laughs, some sobs and the solid satisfaction of a good story well told.

Calarco blends three stories together in a swirl of interrelationship. They are the stories of two families taking their respective children for their first semester of college, as well as the relationship between the waitress and the cook at the diner where the families happen to stop for lunch.

Before marrying her husband, the mother of the college-bound girl dated the father of the college-bound boy, and there are lingering tensions over that between the mother and her husband. The two freshmen college students were also once a couple.

Just to mix it up even further, the waitress and the short order cook have a sibling-like relationship, but not a romantic one, as the waitress and her partner have decided to have a child.

The production matches the ever-changing perspectives in Calarco's script with a semi-swirling staging. In a larger theater, this might have been a rotating mechanized platform; here, in the bare floor venue on South Four Mile Run Drive, the director moves tables, doors and counters around as the focus of the story shifts.

THE DIRECTOR IS the playwright's brother, Joe Calarco. He's the Helen Hayes Award winning director of big hits such as "Urinetown," "Side Show," "Nijinsky's Last Dance" and "Assassins" at Signature Theatre, and author of his own well-known "Shakespeare's R&J." He keeps the swirl moving but never lets the interactions become confusing.

In the cast, Lee Mikeska Gardner turns in a touching portrait of a mother struggling with letting go of her daughter while also dealing with her husband's self-centered view of their world. Andy Brownstein avoids making the part of the husband too selfish, giving a sensitive portrayal of his character's inability to reveal his sensitivity — to either his wife's or his daughter's needs. Timmy Ray James is sharp and acidic as the boy's father, who is under a number of different stresses.

College-bound students Anne Veal and Michael Grew, and waitress Kerrie Seymour are strong; Chris Stezin, one of Charter Theatre's Associate Artistic Directors, is a pleasure to watch.

THIS IS THE first production in an announced three-show season for Charter at Theatre On The Run. In March, they will mount a quirky piece by Mark Charney about a man with a history of pain caused by no fewer than "37 Stones" — as in kidney stones. In May, the latest play by Chris Stezin will be directed by Charter's Artistic Director, Keith Bridges. It's a futuristic look at developments in the organ donation field — as in a human head transplant.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.