Since it opened two years ago with Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, Littleton's Everyman Theatre has been one of the metro area's best and most interesting small venues. Now the company has closed its doors, a victim of budget problems and shaky economic times.
Everyman was housed in a fairly hideous office building. The performance area was a featureless room with a low, flat ceiling. The seats were metal folding chairs set on risers. Within this space, artistic director Richard Pegg created miracles. For Waltz, in which fantasy and reality are so intertwined that it's impossible to separate them, Pegg performed wonders with a stack of suitcases and very minimal, flexibly used bits of scenery. By contrast, for Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, he created a young girl's bedroom with apple-green walls, scattered with books and bric-a-brac, that was so solidly constructed and realistic you were tempted to take up residence there.
Five Women, a lively, bouncy play by Alan Ball (who later wrote the screenplay for American Beauty and scripts for HBO's Six Feet Under), was one of Everyman's most popular shows, filling the auditorium through word of mouth. But the company's major artistic success was its production of Talking Heads, two monologues by English playwright Alan Bennett, who specializes in exploring the lives of lonely, wistful -- but generally extremely proper -- members of England's lower middle class. Pegg directed Talking Heads himself, with penetrating intelligence and meticulous attention to detail.
"I'm the sort of person who puts dog poop under the park bench on stage, whether people notice it or not," he says. "I make sure the shopping bag's from Sainsbury's and the cigarettes are English, not American."
There were moments of birdsong, a pile of drifted brown leaves, diffuse light shining through a window. These elements, as well as impeccable performances by actors Chris Tabb and Ann Rickhoff, made Talking Heads a luminous evening of theater.
Everyman evolved from theater classes offered by the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, whose charter includes cultural-arts programming. The district started the classes about twenty years ago; eventually, students asked for a place to perform, and the annex was taken over. Some years of flux followed. Pegg, who had been working in England, where he grew up, moved back to Littleton just over two years ago with his wife, Meg Collins, and was asked to take over. The couple staged a play called The Weir with great success, then decided to name the company Everyman for the Cheltenham theater group in which Pegg had gotten his start. He and Collins became independent contractors, with the district providing free rent, tax-exempt status, administrative help and grant writing.
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Last spring, Everyman's Two Rooms lost money. In the fall, Pegg began rehearsals for the musical She Loves Me. Around $6,000 had been spent on the production when a family emergency forced him to return to England. "We were a week away from the opening," he says. "The set was half finished, the lighting not started. I said, 'I don't think we can go forward under these conditions.'"
The district agreed. The staff now wanted him to guarantee that his next three plays would make money. They urged him to mount less challenging fare: Agatha Christie, My Three Angels. He declined; the theater went dark.
"In theory, Everyman still exists," Pegg says. "But at what point it will become a producing company again, I don't know."