Center Stage marks its 40th with shows new and old

THEATER

Fats Waller revue and two world premieres are on the schedule

TheaterColumn

April 18, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Center Stage will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a stimulating and varied season that includes two world premieres and the theater's first co-production with Washington's Arena Stage - a revival of the Fats Waller revue Ain't Misbehavin'.

In a strong display of faith in the theater's own nurturing process, both of the new plays, Warren Leight's No Foreigners Beyond This Point and Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel, are Center Stage commissions. Each received staged readings this season as part of the inaugural First Look series. They will be the first Center Stage world premieres in four seasons.

"I'm hoping to take the theater in a slightly different direction. I want to do more new work," said Center Stage artistic director Irene Lewis, who considers the emphasis on new plays one of the ways she plans to honor Center Stage's anniversary.

Though Ain't Misbehavin' might not sound ground-breaking, the collaboration between these two theaters is.

Referring to the co-production - which will originate here and then transfer to Arena Stage - Lewis said she has been talking with Molly Smith, her counterpart at the Washington theater, for several years about a joint project.

For her part, Smith commented, "I have been wanting to collaborate with this top-of-its-game theater company since I arrived in Washington."

After proving such a fertile source, Center Stage's First Look series will continue in the coming season with several yet-to-be-named plays. Lewis said she might expand the series beyond new plays. "I'm considering work that might not be very well known - an existing play, maybe a new adaptation, a new translation."

She also confirmed that the theater is close to naming a new managing director to replace Thomas Pechar, who resigned last winter after only 17 months on the job.

Here's the 2002-2003 six-play main season:

Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie (Oct. 4-Dec. 1, Head Theater). Jefferson Mays, a frequent Center Stage actor, will star as the boy who refuses to grow up in this 1904 non-musical play. Although the title role has often been played by a woman, Lewis, who will direct the production, said it is important to her that it be played by a man since "the tension at the center of the play is Wendy and Peter, and this is a man/kid who is terrified of emotional entanglements."

No Foreigners Beyond This Point, by Leight (Nov. 21-Dec. 22, Pearlstone Theater). Written by the Tony Award-winning author of Side Man, this world premiere is based on Leight's experiences teaching English in China in 1980-1981. Center Stage resident director Tim Vasen will direct.

Ain't Misbehavin', conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. (Jan. 10-Feb. 23, Pearlstone). Ken Roberson, whose credits include both Center Stage and Arena Stage, directs this 25th anniversary revival of the Tony Award-winning musical revue, whose score includes such Fats Waller classics as "Honeysuckle Rose," "Black and Blue" and "Mean to Me."

Intimate Apparel, by Nottage (Feb. 14-March 23, Head). Co-commissioned with South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif., Nottage's play is set in 1905 New York and focuses on a black seamstress whose clientele ranges from socialites to streetwalkers. "[Nottage] always writes about the unusual," Lewis said, adding that the new play features "a beautiful use of words, to say nothing of imagery."

Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller, translated by Robert David MacDonald (April 4-May 4, Pearlstone). The 18th-century German playwright set this political drama just before Mary, Queen of Scots, was put to death by order of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. "I think that the face-off between these two queens is really wonderful - and talk about power politics, which is what makes it terribly contemporary," said Lewis, who will direct.

The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash (May 16-June 15, Pearlstone). This classic American romantic comedy tells the tale of con artist Bill Starbuck, who promises to produce rain in the middle of a drought. For Lewis, the crux of the play is the relationship between its female lead and the "man who gives her the confidence to be her own woman."

Subscriptions to the six-show season range from $60 to $260. For more information, call 410-332-0033.

Bread & Puppet

Bread & Puppet Theater, the acclaimed Vermont-based troupe, is coming to Baltimore for one performance only of The Insurrection Mass with Funeral March for a Rotten Idea. Described as a non-religious service performed in the presence of several papier mache gods, the work will be presented at 8 p.m. May 4 at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Tickets are $15 for general admission; $10 for students, seniors and artists.

The troupe is seeking 10-30 local volunteers to participate in the performance and a two-three-hour rehearsal/workshop beginning at 3 p.m. that day. Call 410-752-8558.

Youth production

In December, two dozen students from the Lemmel Middle School performed original songs, stories, poems and African drumming on stage at Everyman Theatre, the first public performance in the ongoing EveryYouth Theatre educational program.

Now the students are back with new material, to be performed at noon, April 27, at Everyman, 1727 N. Charles St. Admission is free. Call 410-752-2208.

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