At Center Stage, a season of 'Investigation'

THEATER

For 2000-01, plays complement the centerpiece, a story about Nazi trials.

April 23, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

From Nazi trials to swing dancing, from Thornton Wilder to August Wilson, Center Stage's 2000-2001 season will offer a broad mix of subject matter, periods and styles.

The most ambitious offering will be Peter Weiss' "The Investigation," based on the actual testimony of Nazi guards, doctors and officials who were brought to trial by Auschwitz survivors in 1964. The production is supported by a $55,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I built the season around it," artistic director Irene Lewis said of "The Investigation," which she has been interested in directing for several years. "Because of the dramatic demands that it makes on the audience, I thought it had to be balanced by plays that were decidedly different in tone and were life affirming."

In that vein, the artistic director is especially enthusiastic about the season's newest play, "Fall," in which a 14-year-old's parents force her to join them on vacation at swing dance camp. The season will also include a bill of rarely produced short plays by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, Thornton Wilder.

" 'Fall,' 'The Investigation' and Wilder's short plays are perhaps plays you're not going to see someplace else," Lewis said.

Although specific dates are not yet available, here's the full lineup in order:

"She Stoops to Conquer," by Oliver Goldsmith (Pearlstone Theater). First produced at Center Stage in 1976, this 18th century comedy about a gentleman who is only at ease with lower class women will be directed by Lewis.

"Fall," by Bridget Carpenter (Pearlstone). Lewis discovered this coming-of-age play when she was a judge for this year's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for women playwrights, which Carpenter won. "It's very unusual, fresh, and a bit of fun with some heart," she said of the play, which will be directed by Lisa Peterson in a co-production with California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Short plays by Thornton Wilder (Head Theater). This production stems from Lewis' association with the late playwright's nephew, A. Tappan Wilder, a Chevy Chase resident whom she met when she directed "The Skin of Our Teeth" for the New York Shakespeare Festival two summers ago. The centerpiece of the evening will be a play called "Pullman Car Hiawatha." "It's about a train trip with all the Thornton Wilder spins," Lewis explained. "He always expands to the universe and yet it's very particular." Tim Vasen directs.

"The Investigation," by Peter Weiss (Pearlstone). Center Stage's production of this documentary drama by the author of "Marat/Sade" will feature a role-switching cast. "At one time they are the accused and at one time they are the witnesses," Lewis said. "The point I'm trying to make is that it's an insight into all of us and what we're capable of."

"Dinah Was," by Oliver Goldstick (Head). An account of the brief life of the late blues singer Dinah Washington, to be played by E. Faye Butler, Goldstick's play opens in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel in 1959. Director David Petrarca's production has been staged at various theaters around the country, including off-Broadway, and will be co-produced here with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The Head Theater will retain its cabaret setting for the show, whose creative team includes such frequent Center Stage collaborators as George W. Faison (choreography), Michael Yeargan (sets), Paul Tazewell (costumes) and Stephen Strawbridge (lighting).

"The Piano Lesson," by August Wilson (Pearlstone). Associate artist Marion McClinton returns to direct this 1930s installment of the playwright's decade-by-decade account of the black experience in America. An heirloom piano is the device Wilson uses to examine the impact of a legacy on a family's future.

Yet to be announced is next season's Off Center series, which Lewis expects to follow a weekend-festival format similar to the current season's series. She also said the theater will continue offering occasional free Monday night subscriber programs, related to each of the season's plays.

In addition, the new season will greet theatergoers with a renovated lobby, entrance and mezzanine cafe, as well as refurbished seats in the Pearlstone. Subscriptions to the six-play season are $70-$240. Call 410-332-0033.

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