Illuminating the local stage scene.


McLean Jesse as Katha in "Maple and Vine." - BILL SIGAFOOS
  • Bill Sigafoos
  • McLean Jesse as Katha in "Maple and Vine."

Theater on Wheels

The director of the latest Firehouse Theatre production, “Maple and Vine,” has the bona fides you might expect from a seasoned theater veteran: 15 years as the artistic director of a reputable company, the Perishable Theatre in Rhode Island, a job teaching at a top university, The College of William and Mary, and service on various impressive sounding panels and boards.

But one aspect of Mark Lerman’s career really sets him apart: He’s a true theatrical entrepreneur. Eight years ago, Lerman came up with the idea for the Virginia Theatre Machine, a fully functional theater experience on wheels. “I was mowing the lawn and thinking about what I was going to do with my life,” says Lerman, who moved from Rhode Island to Williamsburg in 2005 when his wife accepted a tenure-track position at William and Mary. “I had two impulses: start a really good ice cream shop or do something innovative with theater.”

The two thoughts coalesced into the idea of refurbishing an ice-cream truck from which he could produce puppet shows. But his vision expanded when he started talking to Jeremy Woodward, a set designer and art director friend. The eventual result was a 2,000-pound trailer featuring an 8-by-8-foot stage, sophisticated lighting and, as Lerman puts it, “as many effects as we could cram into such a small space.”

Lerman has traveled all over the state with the Virginia Theatre Machine, bringing high-quality productions to schools, libraries and museums. But his bread-and-butter gig is an annual stint at Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square, performing an always-evolving show called “Master Thespian’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’”

“It’s the story of an actor and a stage manager determined to perform ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 20 minutes,” Lerman says. “Every year they try and every year they fail. We hit all the key plot points of the classic story but it’s really the saga of these two guys. I rewrite the show every year with new surprises.”

The show Lerman is directing for his first foray in the Richmond theater world, “Maple and Vine,” depicts a community recreating the simpler but more rigid lifestyle of the 1950s. His Theatre Machine harkens back to a time even further back. “In the 15th and 16th centuries they had mobile stages called pageant wagons,” Lerman says. “So with this fully equipped, modern invention, I’m really tapping into some ancient theater history.”

Running:Virginia Repertory Theatre’s “Croaker: the Frog Prince Musical” goes to the well one last time this Friday. But characters will continue to croak in “Little Shop of Horrors” at Swift Creek Mill and Quill Theatre’s “King Lear” for a couple more weeks.

On Deck: TheatreLab and Yes, And Entertainment gussy up a sadomasochistic two-hander, “Venus in Fur,” which opens April 15.

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