Center Stage announces its season lineup

THEATER

April 03, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Youth and families will be among the common threads running through the 2003-2004 season at Center Stage, which will include a world premiere, a new translation of a French classic and a Tony Award-winning musical.

"The voices of the young [are] crucial in continuing the vitality of this theater," said Center Stage artistic director Irene Lewis. Next season two of those voices will belong to playwrights Jerome Hairston and Danny Hoch.

Hairston will be represented by a.m. Sunday, described by Lewis as an "assessment of race relations seen through an interracial marriage." The hit of the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville last year, the play takes place over a succession of Sunday mornings.

It was brought to Lewis' attention by Center Stage's new resident dramaturg, Gavin Witt, who originally read the script two years ago and then saw it in Louisville. Calling it a "well-structured, tightly woven" work, Witt said, "It just wrenchingly took me inside each of the characters with absolute sympathy and understanding and a quiet sense of desperation."

a.m. Sunday will be the season's final offering (dates, and in some cases the order of the productions, have not been finalized). Direction will be by Center Stage associate artist Marion McClinton, whose connection with the playwright goes back a decade, when he directed a play by the then teen-ager for the Young Playwrights Festival in New York.

The season's other young playwright, Hoch, is best known as a solo performance artist. Center Stage, however, will produce the world premiere of his first full-cast play, Till the Break of Dawn, about a group of hip-hop, activist youth who travel to Cuba. The play, in which Hoch does not appear, will be staged in the upstairs Head Theater. A Center Stage commission, it has had staged readings in the theater's First Look series this season and last.

"Danny is ... a political writer and I don't feel we have many of them," Lewis said, adding, "I like launching him into his first venture away from stand-up, one man."

Political as well as familial themes figure into the season's musical Sweeney Todd. Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's 1979 Tony winner is the tale of a homicidal Victorian barber seeking revenge for wrongs against him and his family. Slated for the Head Theater under Lewis' direction, it's a musical she has wanted to direct for a while; previous plans were postponed when the rights went to the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Festival last summer.

Lewis will also direct another show dealing with family - George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, which will open the season. Though the director has never seen this play, long-time Center Stage patrons may recall the theater's 1977 production. Shaw zeroes in on the family of a self-made underwear magnate; his spirited daughter, Lewis said, is a further reflection of her interest in youth.

The lineup includes one other classic, The Miser, Moliere's comedy about greed. Also a play with a family at its core, The Miser was previously produced at Center Stage in 1982 and 1966. Next season's production will be newly translated and adapted by the theater's associate dramaturg, James Magruder.

For the sixth slot, Lewis will choose between works by two modern American masters - David Mamet's excoriating look at Hollywood, Speed-the-Plow, and a double bill of one-acts by Arthur Miller, jointly titled Danger: Memory! The theater has never produced a Mamet play and hasn't staged a work by Miller since 1974. The two plays in Danger: Memory! focus on a pair of aging friends and the father of a murdered daughter, respectively.

Although Center Stage does not select its seasons with specific themes in mind, Witt acknowledged that patterns sometimes emerge in retrospect. However, while families appear to be a recurring theme in the coming season, he cautioned that these are not necessarily traditional or comfortable family dramas.

"These plays examine the troubling and troubled aspects of the domestic," he said. "Over the course of them we'll certainly see a range of human experience - the way people come together, the way relationships are formed, the way relationships are challenged, the way we respond to the possibility to be better or not."

Subscriptions to the six-show season range from $60 to $280. Call 410-332-0033.

Jay works his magic

Master sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay will be the headliner at the theater's annual fund-raiser, Center Stage Presents, on May 10. An author and actor as well as magician, Jay appeared off-Broadway earlier this season in Ricky Jay: On the Stem, directed by David Mamet. The event begins at 6 p.m. at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St., with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and also includes a buffet supper, scotch tasting, dancing and a silent auction of theatrical items. Tickets cost $250. Call 410-685-3200, Ext. 434.

Sebastian Bach fired

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