Center Stage plans 'lighter'season

April 21, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Center Stage's 1992-1993 season will be highlighted by three playwrights never before produced at the theater, as well as a new format consisting of musicals presented in repertory in a cabaret setting.

The lineup for the 30th anniversary season, described by artistic director Irene Lewis as "somewhat lighter in tone" than the current season, includes the off-Broadway hit "The Good Times Are Killing Me" and the first major U.S. production of the Canadian script "Escape From Happiness," by Center Stage newcomers Lynda Barry and George C. Walker, respectively. In addition, the 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni will make his Center Stage debut with "The Servant of Two Masters."

The theater will also choose from among several titles by two playwrights who haven't been produced there in almost 20 years -- Eugene O'Neill and Edward Albee. The sole Center Stage standard will be George Bernard Shaw, represented by "Arms and the Man."

Referring to the cabaret musicals, which will be staged in the Head Theater, Lewis said yesterday, "I was interested in introducing the musical form back into the season at a scale we could afford and was also interested in using the cabaret format upstairs." Although plans haven't been finalized, the two most likely candidates are "Herringbone," a musical about a vaudeville performer by Skip Kennon, Ellen Fitzhugh and Tom Cone; and Lanie Robertson's concert biography of Baltimore's Billie Holiday, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill." Each features one performer and a pianist.

The re:Discovery series will not be included in the 1992-'93 seven-play season, although it may reappear at a future date. "Just because you do something one year, I have no interest in blindly repeating it," Lewis explained. However, the cabaret musicals will continue the repertory tradition of re:Discovery. Lewis said she was attracted to the combination of these two shows because "Herringbone" "is sort of a performance piece and ["Lady Day"] has a special Baltimore appeal."

With the exception of the musicals, the theater has not announced which theater will house which production; nor have the dates or order of plays been determined.

"Interestingly enough, there are a lot of families involved in this coming season," says James Magruder, a staff dramaturg who participated in the selection process. For example, he points out, the offbeat comedy, "Escape From Happiness," is about "a family with a troubled past living in a crumbling neighborhood."

Also along this line, "The Good Times Are Killing Me," syndicated cartoonist Lynda Barry's first play, is a coming-of-age story that focuses on the daughters of two families -- one black and one white -- growing up in the '60s.

In addition, the theater will choose one of three scripts: O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten" or "Long Day's Journey Into Night" -- described by Magruder as "the original dysfunctional family play" -- and Albee's "A Delicate Balance." Noting that Center Stage burned to the ground during the run of its last Albee play -- "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" produced on North Avenue -- Magruder kidded, "Hopefully, the place is fireproof."

Goldoni's farce "The Servant of Two Masters" marks the introduction of a classic writer to Center Stage, while Shaw's illusion-shattering "Arms and the Man" revives a script produced during the theater's inaugural season.

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