Center Stage has 2 world premieres Co-productions: Having found a way to get more bang for the buck, the theater announces new season.

April 17, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

With arts funding tighter than ever, Center Stage has come up with creative solutions that will allow it to produce two important world premieres and a large-scale production of Brecht's "Galileo" as part of its 1996-1997 season.

For the world premieres, the solution is co-productions with other regional theaters. "Triumph," a musical version of Marivaux's "The Triumph of Love," will debut here then move to the Yale Repertory Theatre. Keith Glover's "Thunder Knocking on the Door" will debut at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival before an extended run at Center Stage.

Besides being financially advantageous, co-productions permit a play "to continue and get yet another chance at rehearsal and time to think about rewriting it. It really grows, I think, enormously," artistic director Irene Lewis said in announcing the season.

"Galileo," which opens the season in October, will be supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant will cover 10 percent of the budget for this 13-actor, 30-character drama. And, with the NEA no longer awarding general operating grants, this is the only endowment money Center Stage will get for 1996-1997 -- less than half of what it received for the current season.

Still, Lewis, who will direct "Galileo," said, "I think they just eliminated a lot of theaters from getting anything. I'm thrilled we got this. This theater does riskier material than a lot of others and we have a tendency to get backing."

The new season also will include plays by William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and August Wilson.

The genesis of the musical "Triumph" came about largely through the interest of New York producer and former Baltimorean Margo Lion. Center Stage produced James Magruder's nonmusical adaptation of "The Triumph of Love" in 1993. The following spring it was produced by New York's Classic Stage Company, where Lion saw it. She then met with its New York director, Michael Mayer, and expressed interest in turning the 18th-century comedy into a movie, according to Magruder, who is Center Stage's resident dramaturg.

Mayer suggested making it a musical instead, and Lion put together a creative team that, along with Mayer and Magruder, includes a young composer named Jeffrey Stock and lyricist Susan Birkenhead, who wrote the lyrics for Lion's production of "Jelly's Last Jam."

Calling it "a smart musical with quite a bit of wit and comedy," Lewis said she was attracted to "Triumph" in part because Center Stage had already produced the dramatic version. "I thought it would be of special interest to the subscribers to see the transformation of a work," she said.

"Thunder Knocking on the Door" also has a Center Stage connection. Its author, actor Keith Glover, starred in the theater's 1994 production of "Two Trains Running." His previous play, "The Coming of the Hurricane," was produced at Washington's Arena Stage this season under the direction of Marion McClinton, who will also direct "Thunder" and the August Wilson play.

An allegory set in rural Alabama in 1966, "Thunder Knocking on the Door" centers on the grown twin children of a deceased blues guitarist and their confrontation with a rival guitarist, who may be the devil.

The season's other three productions include:

"The Glass Menagerie," Center Stage's first Tennessee Williams play in nearly two decades. "I think we need that poet back in the theater," Lewis said.

One of two Shakespeare plays -- "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Merchant of Venice," depending on actor availability. Acknowledging that these are highly dissimilar plays, Lewis, who will helm the Shakespeare, said, "Because I've directed so little Shakespeare, I'm open to all of Shakespeare."

A work by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson. If the rights are available, the choice will be his critically acclaimed new Broadway show, "Seven Guitars," set in the 1940s. If not, it will be the only other Wilson play Center Stage hasn't produced -- "The Piano Lesson," the 1930s installment of the playwright's decade-by-decade chronicle of 20th-century African-American life.

Coming up

Subscriptions to Center Stage's six-play series range from $60 to $192. Call (410) 332-0033. The schedule is:

Oct. 4-Nov. 3: "Galileo" (Pearlstone Theater)

Nov. 21-Dec. 22: "Triumph" (Pearlstone)

Dec. 13-Jan. 26, 1997: "Thunder Knocking on the Door" (Head Theater)

Jan. 31-March 9, 1997: "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Merchant of Venice" (Pearlstone)

March 14-April 27, 1997: "The Glass Menagerie" (Head)

April 25-June 1, 1997: "The Piano Lesson" or "Seven Guitars" (Pearlstone)

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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