Center Stage announces its new season

Productions: The theater has a diverse program list in store that includes `A Raisin in the Sun,' Shakespeare and a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.


April 05, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

A classic Broadway musical and plays by William Shakespeare, Noel Coward and Lorraine Hansberry will highlight the 2001-2002 Center Stage season.

The musical, "The Pajama Game," will be only the second major Broadway musical produced by Center Stage in its 38-year history. (The first was "She Loves Me" in 1985.) The 1954 show about a strike at a pajama factory will be staged by artistic director Irene Lewis, who described it as a "quintessential musical."

"It's sheer fun. It has a little bit of anchoring with the love story and with the union, but for the most part, it's light," Lewis said. Adapted by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, with a score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross that includes such hit songs as "Hey, There" and "Steam Heat," the musical launched several careers, including that of choreographer Bob Fosse. Center Stage's production will be choreographed by a former Fosse dancer and frequent Lewis collaborator, Willie Rosario. Lewis hopes to open the season with the show.

Later in the season, Lewis will direct a Shakespeare production, which will be either "King Lear" or "A Winter's Tale," neither of which has ever been produced by Center Stage. "Lear" is contingent on the schedule of actor Stephen Markle, whose past Center Stage credits include Iago and the title role in "The Misanthrope."

"He really is desperate to do this," Lewis said. If Markle, who is currently filming a TV pilot, is unavailable, "Lear" will be postponed a season, and Lewis will direct the romance, "A Winter's Tale," instead.

The Coward play will also be one of two titles, depending on actor availability. Resident director Tim Vasen will direct either "Hay Fever," a comedy inspired by the late actress Laurette Taylor, or "Blithe Spirit," an account of a marriage thrown off-kilter by the ghost of the husband's first wife.

Hansberry's 1959 groundbreaking drama, "A Raisin in the Sun" will be directed by associate artist Marion McClinton. Three years ago, McClinton directed Hansberry's riskier and rarely produced "Les Blancs" at Center Stage, but this will be the first time "Raisin," the story of an African-American family struggling to escape the Chicago ghetto, has been seen at the theater.

Lewis is also trying to secure the rights to Edward Albee's 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Three Tall Women." Based on the playwright's adoptive mother, the play features a trio of women in the first act; after intermission, the characters are revealed to be the same woman at different ages.

For the sixth and final season offering, Lewis hopes to produce a new play. "I try to hold out as long as I can just to see what comes in," she said. She expects to have the season finalized in May.

Characterizing what is shaping up as an audience-friendly, accessible season, Lewis said, "I think it's a wonderful mix, and what I'm most fond of - to go from `Pajama Game' to `Lear.' ... I just find those swings very exciting. I really like to see all of that in one season so that the experience for the audience is really varied. It is not all of one ilk or tone."

In addition to the regular season, Lewis announced that the theater will launch a series of new play readings. "I'm going to start it small," she said. For now, she's anticipating three staged readings, which will replace the 7-year-old Off Center series.

One may be a new solo piece by Lisa Kron (author of "2.5 Minute Ride"), who has received an NEA/TCG Theatre Residency grant to develop a work based partly on her mother. Another may be a play commissioned from Warren Leight (winner of the 1999 Tony Award for "Side Man") about his experiences teaching in China.

Subscriptions to the six-show main season range from $60 to $240. For more information, call 410-332-0033.

Services for actress

The funeral for Elauna Griffin, the 28-year-old actress who died suddenly Saturday between the matinee and evening performances at Everyman Theatre, will be held at 7 tonight at Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church, 1714 Madison Ave.

"Blues for an Alabama Sky" was canceled for a week to honor her memory. Performances will resume at Everyman, 1727 N. Charles St., at 8 p.m. Saturday with Michelle Rogers, an actress from Bowie, in the role of Delia, a young social worker. The run has been extended for a week, through April 22. For more information, call 410-752-2208.

Interns sought

The Baltimore Playwrights Festival's Backstage Intern Program is accepting applications from high school students, ages 14-18. The internships will run from June through early September. Interns will work part-time, evenings and weekends, in such areas as stage crew, set construction, lighting and sound.

No stipends or transportation are available. There is a $5 application fee. Call Shirley Bell at 410-488-2404.

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