Tucked away in an almost hidden nook of Tysons is the decade-old, not-for-profit theatre company 1st Stage. In an area closely resembling an industrialized plaza, new patrons often feel lost. With no big marque or valet parking in sight, those accustomed to more theaters downtown may worry they’re in the wrong place, but upon reassurance, the theatre doesn’t disappoint.
Unintentionally masking the true décor of 1st Stage elevates the experience for theatergoers. After climbing the dated metal staircase and crossing the threshold to the 1st Stage, the magic hits. The air is thick and notes of artistic fortitude can be felt.
Aside from their modest architecture, competing as a small fish in an enormous theatrical pond is occasionally daunting.
“We [have] lost shows to other theaters because there were larger theaters that could offer more to playwrights, especially in terms of actual dollars” shares Alex Levy, Artistic Director. “Yes, we are competing but they’re [also] competing with larger theaters across the country: Broadway [or even] film. There is always someone bigger than you to whom you can lose a show or actor.”
Defying all odds, 1st Stage acquired the rights to Hero’s Welcome, written by seasoned Tony Award winner, Alan Ayckbourn. Having only been shown professionally twice — once in London and once in New York City — acquiring this dramedy was a particularly significant win for Levy. Hero’s Welcome now runs through October 7.
The story follows a series of events sparked by the return home of a war veteran and his new wife. Confronting past and present transgressions, the play features complexities in human decision making and the harmful impact of those ill-informed, life-altering choices.
Brilliantly funny, dark and quick paced, Ayckbourn’s work offers unending questions. While a number go unanswered in the runtime, a climactic conclusion formulates, offering a sigh of relief. It’s a work that leaves audiences desiring more.
Adding to the perfectly detailed and intricate storytelling is the prestigious acting.
“One of the things that I love about this place is that you will see great plays and you will see performers that you will see on those larger stages but you will be this close,” Levy gleams while demonstrating a few inches in distance with his hands.
Levy references Anne Bowles, who plays Kara. Prior to debuting at 1st Stage, Bowles appeared three times on Broadway, in Netflix’s House of Cards and CBS’ The Good Wife. With Hero’s Welcome, audience members “can see directly into her eyes and breathe with her in this space. That’s an experience you don’t always get the opportunity to have.”
The intimacy and presentations at 1st Stage are what keep the community coming back. Annually the creative researches and selects the season’s lineup for upcoming seasons based on cultural interests.
“Excellence is always the first thing,” Levy says. “A lot of our audience come to our shows without knowing much. And what they trust in 1st Stage, which is a great honor and obligation, is that it’s going to be a great story.”
While it’s difficult to measure the impact of their productions, 1st Stage relies on faith when determining success and the future.
“One of the benefits is that I feel very little pressure to grab the hot, new show in New York whether it is good or bad just because it’s new,” Levy explains. “Our audience is interested in great stories. We look at the style and we look at the world around us and what conversations feel like they are relevant to when and where we are in the world. We tend to look at stories that are dealing with large human questions as opposed to subjects at the moment.”
Following Hero’s Welcome in 1st Stage’s season is A Civil War Christmas, written by Pulitzer Prize Winner Paula Vogel.
Hero’s Welcome runs through October 7 at 1st Stage at Tysons Corner. Tickets are $15-$39. For more information on the upcoming season and tickets visit their website at www.1ststagetysons.org.
1st Stage: 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA; 703-854 1856; www.1ststagetysons.org