The new and the nearly new predominate Productions: This season is not the season for revivals on area stages

Fine Arts Preview

September 21, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

New shows and nearly new shows that have undergone renovations will highlight the 1997-1998 theatrical season in Baltimore.

Among the newcomers is a world premiere by one of the country's up-and-coming young playwrights, Maryland native Kia Corthron. Set in Harlem, "Splash Hatch (On the E Going Down)" explores issues ranging from family and childbirth to the environment. It will debut at Center Stage in November.

Family is also at the core of another of Center Stage's eagerly anticipated shows -- the current off-Broadway hit "How I Learned to Drive," a gripping examination of dangerously close family relations by Paula Vogel, another former Marylander. Securing the rights was a coup for Center Stage, which will produce the area premiere in March.

In addition, Lorraine Hansberry's rarely produced 1960s drama, "Les Blancs," will be new to most theatergoers. Center Stage has been awarded a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant for this January production. The final play written by the late author of "A Raisin in the Sun," "Les Blancs" is an epic account of a fictional African revolution.

At Baltimore's touring houses, two musical "renovation projects" will be among the more intriguing offerings. Usually when a show flops on Broadway, it isn't heard from again -- or at least not for a long, long time. "Big," the musical adaptation of the 1988 Tom Hanks movie, and "State Fair," the stage version of the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical, both foundered in New York two seasons ago.

Revamped for the road

But instead of fading into obscurity, these two family musicals have been revamped for the road, where -- if the changes are successful -- they hope to find the audience they lacked on Broadway. "Big," which opens the Mechanic Theatre season next month, will have all-new sets, direction, choreography -- even seven new songs. "State Fair," coming to the Lyric Opera House at the end of March, has retained its Broadway star, John Davidson, as well as the original sets and costumes, but has a new director and choreographer.

"Big" isn't the only big news at the Mechanic. In February, the theater will present the smash hit of the past Broadway season -- the stylish revival of Kander and Ebb's satirical musical "Chicago." And, in April the Mechanic brings in "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," the first play by comedian Steve Martin. An off-Broadway hit two seasons back, the comedy creates an imaginary meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.

Meanwhile, back at the Lyric, which has dubbed its season "Broadway and Beyond," the most unconventional offering will be "Cirque Ingenieux," a European-style, non-animal circus featuring gymnasts and aerialists that is slated to arrive in March.

(Of course, covering the stage with ice for "Nutcracker on Ice" in December isn't exactly conventional, either.)

When it comes to the new and different, however, the Theatre Project always leads the pack, and this season will be no exception. Coming in January is the world premiere of "The Damned Thing," the latest work by Obie Award-winning playwright Mac Wellman. Performed by the Ridge Theater of New York before an off-Broadway run, the play is based on a novella by Ambrose Bierce and will be offered on a double bill with Bierce's short Gothic drama, "The Sandalwood Box."

In March, the Theatre Project introduces Baltimoreans to an acclaimed Canadian playwright and performer, Daniel MacIvor, in the U.S. debut of his solo performance piece "Monster," a comedy about monstrous forces ranging from school bullies to old age.

Newer isn't everything, of course, and Everyman Theatre will mark a Baltimore milestone in November when it produces Horton Foote's nostalgic "The Trip to Bountiful," starring beloved local actress Vivienne Shub, celebrating her 60th year on stage.

Boldly going

There will be good reasons to travel to Washington this season. Next month, Neil Simon's Broadway-bound play, "Proposals," opens at Kennedy Center. Former Baltimorean Anna Deavere Smith's latest work, an ensemble piece about the American presidency in which she functions as playwright but not performer, premieres at Arena Stage in November. And later that month, Patrick Stewart -- who was a noted Shakespearean actor before he became Capt. Jean Luc Picard -- will boldly go where few contemporary white actors dare to go when he plays the title role in "Othello" opposite an all-black cast at the Shakespeare Theatre.

Finally, if theatrical wanderlust hits hard, Broadway is launching one of its busiest seasons in years. Hot tickets promise to be "Ragtime" (already tauted as the Tony Award favorite), the stage version of Disney's "The Lion King" and Paul Simon's "The Capeman." And let's not forget the musical "Triumph of Love," which begins previews on Broadway at the end of the week. It may be small in scale, but it occupies a large place in the hearts of Baltimore theatergoers, having had its start at Center Stage last season.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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