What do a couple of fretting parents, Alexander the Great and a quintet of 16-year-old girls have in common? Sitting through "[Herbert III]," "Shadowing the Conqueror" and "Mixed Babies" - the trio of very different plays in repertoire at the Washington Stage Guild - one wonders why these works are lumped together. Certainly they provide double-cast actors Jewell Robinson and Bill Grimmette the opportunity to show off their formidable range - she as the worried mom of "Herbert" and a street-smart teen in "Babies"; he as the beleaguered dad of "Herbert" and the fearsome Alexander in "Conqueror." And all are fairly small-scale vehicles as far as sets, costumes and casts are concerned, just the ticket for a small company with limited resources. Yet slowly, more pressing connections - seams of trust, independence and acceptance - among the three come to light.
So where does "Shadowing the Conqueror" fit in? Far more abstract than either "Herbert" or "Babies," Peter Jukes's depiction of the travels of Alexander the Great (Grimmette) and a contemporary photographer named Mary Ellis (Laura Giannarelli) - based very loosely on the relationship between Alexander and Pyrrho of Elis, a painter who accompanied the warrior on his expedition to the Orient - is most of all a lofty debate between two intensely committed, opposing forces. At the start, he is only alive when "in the field"; she is obsessed with capturing images, especially of this complex megalomaniac. "Only conflict can convince us that we're real," Alexander declares. And so they embark on a globe-trotting journey that ends with Alexander's demise and Ellis's gradual metamorphosis into a much less driven and far more accepting person.
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